Erik ten Hag vowed to press on with his Manchester United revolution after thanking fans for their backing in the face of the club’s imminent takeover.
United recovered from a first half Ten Hag described as a “mess” and “rubbish” to beat Leicester 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday thanks to two goals from man of the moment Marcus Rashford and one from Jadon Sancho.
The victory moved United to within three points of Manchester City and five behind Premier League leaders Arsenal ahead of a big week for the club, and came less than 48 hours after Qatari Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe publicly confirmed they had tabled bids for the club.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) responded to the news on Sunday by stressing that any takeover must come with a guarantee that Ten Hag’s plans will receive unequivocal backing from any new owners. And the manager himself vowed to give his all to the club.
“I thank the fans when they have their trust in me,” Ten Hag said. “I feel committed with this club, I love to be here but it [what happens with any takeover] is not in my influence. What I can influence is the performance of this team and I will give everything to perform as well as possible and to bring them hopefully across limits.”
In a statement, MUST said: “Everyone can see the progress the team is making under Erik ten Hag. After the frustrations of the last decade, it is clear that enormous strides are being taken.
“Any prospective bidder needs to explicitly commit to backing Erik and his plans to restore United to glory.”
MUST also said that bids by Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe raised “questions about sporting integrity” given their “exceptionally close links” to Paris St-Germain and Nice respectively.
PSG are owned by Qatar Sports Investments, a subsidiary of the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund to which Sheikh Jassim has close family links. Fellow French club Nice are owned by Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group.
Amid the interest from Qatar, whose human rights record has attracted a lot of scrutiny, MUST also stressed the importance that any new owner of United “respects the rights of all people, particularly women and the LGBTQ+ community” and said: “Concerns have been raised by other fans groups which we fully support.”
MUST added: “We urge all bidders to open a dialogue with fans groups alongside the bidding process with the club, in order to discuss their proposals including the above issues.”
The American hedge fund giant Elliott, the former owners of AC Milan, have offered the financing for a bid, while Oaktree Capital and MSD Partners are also understood to be among funds offering financing should Raine - the merchant bank overseeing the process - decide to coordinate various bid approaches.
Ten Hag has admitted United’s players can ill afford to allow the takeover process to distract from their pursuit of silverware as the season starts to enter a defining stage. “We are committed with this club – it is our club, it’s in our heart but it [the takeover] is not our job,” he said. “We focus on football and performing and that is what the players and the staff have to do.”
The United manager was serenaded by supporters as he approached the tunnel after the final whistle on Sunday. He began enthusiastically jabbing a finger at fans, which he described as a call to arms ahead of the second leg of their Europa League play-off tie against Barcelona at Old Trafford on Thursday and Carabao Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley three days later. “I said [to them]: ‘Come Thursday, it is a big game, make sure you are there and we beat Barcelona together’,” he said.
Yet Ten Hag, while delighted with United’s second-half display against Leicester, admitted his side must be much better against Barcelona than they were in the first half. Rashford gave United a 25th-minute lead but only after two outstanding saves from David de Gea.
“I was really unhappy by our performance,” he said. “We have to follow the rules and principles from our way of playing. When we don’t, it is getting a mess.
“When we face a good opponent, like Leicester is, and concede chances, it’s only down to David de Gea that we don’t concede a goal. We were really lucky at half-time to be 1-0 up. A great pass from Bruno [Fernandes] and finish from Rashy but, as for the rest, it was rubbish. Today the team needed him [De Gea] because it was a mess and they were brilliant saves.”
Ten Hag said he could tell at half-time that the players were aware they had fallen well below the standards he expects.
Although the victory kept United in the championship hunt, Ten Hag refused to entertain any talk about the title. “It is February, it’s not about the title race,” he said.
Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager, was angry Marcel Sabitzer was not sent off late in the first half after catching Wout Faes high on the knee with his studs and questioned how the Var had not sent referee Stuart Attwell to the pitchside monitor.
“It’s a sending off,” he said. “Straight leg on to the knee, how it wasn’t looked at and deemed that is incredible.”