Erik ten Hag fires back at Manchester United critics in stunning interview before FA Cup final

Erik ten Hag fired back at his critics on the eve of the FA Cup final, accusing TV pundits of attacking him “to make themselves look better”.

The Manchester United manager’s job hangs in the balance going into the match against Premier League champions Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday, with reports suggesting the club’s new hierarchy – led by co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe – is considering replacements for Ten Hag such as Thomas Tuchel and Ipswich Town’s Kieran McKenna.

In an interview with Dutch publication VI, Ten Hag admitted the season had been “crap” as he led United to eighth place, their worst ever Premier League finish. But he was irked by the criticism he has received along the way, insisting the club is “not ready” to meet sky-high expectations.

“Manchester United won the league for the last time in 2013, 11 years ago, but still they expect us to win every game while competing at the top,” he said. “This club is not ready for that.

“We were supposed to start building something and we made the first steps last year, but then you find out how big this club is and that nobody is ever satisfied. Within the club people were satisfied, but outside the club there was noise by saying I won only the Carabao Cup, lost the FA Cup Final and came third.”

Ten Hag took particular issue with television analysts, accusing them of treating Manchester United as “easy prey” to attack.

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville heavily criticised United this season (Getty Images)
Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville heavily criticised United this season (Getty Images)

“Let me be clear. It has been bad [season]. It has been crap. But despite everything, we are going to play an FA Cup final.

“The pundits in England want to score, they want to show they are worth the money, and for that Manchester United is an easy prey. It’s the biggest club in England and possibly in the world. The club is either loved or hated, there is no in-between.

“So when things go bad, they all start talking and talking with very big words. All this negativity from these so called experts who don’t have the capability to analyse something with facts, but who prefer to attack people to make themselves look better.

“And these same people were the ones who gave me a pat on the back last year. Last year I was able to walk on water, this year I am the worst manager in the Premier League.”

Speaking to the media on Friday, Ten Hag said he had already met new Ratcliffe to review the season and did not need assurances about his future.

“It is not necessary, we will go for next season,” he said, adding he will go on holiday on Sunday as soon as the campaign is over.

The FA Cup offers Ten Hag a final chance to qualify for European competition next season, with a place in the Europa League the reward for victory over City.

Former United managers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were fired after missing out on the Champions League, while Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also lost their jobs in seasons when it became clear they were unlikely to secure a place among Europe’s elite.

Several names have already been mentioned as potential successors to Ten Hag if he is fired, including the former Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino, Brentford’s Thomas Frank and England manager Gareth Southgate, as well as Tuchel and McKenna.

Ahead of the final, City manager Pep Guardiola sympathised with Ten Hag, who has had to cope with slew of injuries. United will be without defenders Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw for the final.

But Guardiola accepts the pressure will be on his counterpart, if he cannot deliver a trophy.

“In big clubs like United and City, when you don’t win you are always in trouble. It is not a secret,” he said. “We have done what we have done, but I would be in trouble if we didn’t win.”

Additional reporting by AP