Moyes was the 'Chosen One'; does Ronaldo decision help prove Ten Hag is finally the 'Right One'?

By Sports Desk October 29, 2022

Whenever Manchester United come up against a team managed by David Moyes, it provides the perfect opportunity to look back on the Red Devils' rather turbulent recent history.

Moyes was, of course, the original successor to Alex Ferguson. The 'Chosen One', as the infamous banner read, and, to many, a harbinger of mediocrity.

That's slightly unfair on Moyes as although United won the title just before he ascended the Old Trafford hot seat, he was left with an aging squad that needed replenishing, plus the club's deep reverence for Ferguson ultimately stopped them moving with the times.

For years, Ferguson essentially operated as a head coach, recruitment director and sporting director rolled into one. The Scot was so effective and influential that, once he'd left, United were suddenly unprepared to meaningfully challenge the best teams.

This past year has arguably seen that gap reach its widest point in the Premier League era, with United posting their worst points total (58) since the competition's foundation in 1992 last season.

But in Erik ten Hag, United might finally have the right manager at the right time.

The succession

While United's woes of the short-lived Moyes era weren't just down to him, nothing over the past eight years has suggested the club was wrong to get rid of him in 2014.

Nevertheless, Moyes and every other post-Ferguson United manager had their strengths.

Moyes had an intimate knowledge of the league; Louis van Gaal brought a defined 'philosophy' and vast experience; Jose Mourinho had the name recognition and a track record of winning trophies; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already deified by supporters and his management style allowed players to be more expressive than under his pragmatic predecessor; Ralf Rangnick came in with 'club-building' expertise at a time when United's structure was spoken about as their biggest area of concern.

But none of them ever looked likely to be a long-term success for United. Obviously that was the hope for Moyes when he signed his five-year contract, though it quickly became apparent his personality was at odds with much of the team and his lack of tactical imagination made the side predictable, boring and ineffective.

Van Gaal did at least try to put a modern stamp on United, with his possession-based approach initially lauded upon his arrival after presiding over a fine World Cup campaign with the Netherlands. But again, the football was tedious to watch, with the Red Devils often accused of keeping possession for possession's sake rather than being able to work openings.

He's since been very critical of how United are run, perhaps casting light on why he was never quite right – maybe he would've been if there was a credible recruitment structure in place, but there wasn't.

Mourinho might argue recruitment issues were behind his downfall as well. Certainly, if you believe the media reports, United routinely missed out on players considered to be his primary targets.

But fans called his exit two years in advance. The prediction was that he'd be in charge for two seasons and then get the boot in his third, which of course came to pass.

Solskjaer arguably got the most freedom to build a team in his image, which was ironic given he was by far the least experienced of the managers to arrive after Ferguson. Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho were all desired by the Norwegian and they duly arrived, but the manager's coaching methods were widely derided from outside the club with few players appearing to improve under his tutelage.

Then the Rangnick-led rebuild ended up being a red herring. Results and performances weren't much better than under Solskjaer, and while his honest appraisals of the club's structure were appreciated by fans, the hierarchy clearly felt differently and swiftly ended his two-year consultancy shortly after Ten Hag's appointment.

Ten Hag's impact

So, what's changed?

Well, in reality we're obviously only going to really know how much United have changed in terms of the general running of the club a few years down the line.

They do at least now have a genuine sporting structure. Granted, it was questioned in pre-season when Ten Hag came in and immediately started demanding players he knew or had previously coached, but all pre-season signings have at least looked encouraging.

As for Ten Hag's management, there have been plenty of examples of him avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors.

Like Van Gaal, Ten Hag has looked to implement a more possession-focused style of play, but this United seem to be playing more on the front foot when out of possession than the LVG vintage.

And yet, Ten Hag's shown the sort of adaptability the likes of Solskjaer and Mourinho were accused of failing to embrace. He's already ditched the insistence on playing out from the back with David de Gea after the Spaniard's struggles in their first two games of the season, while the experiment of playing Christian Eriksen in defensive midfield didn't last long either.

But, arguably most important of all, Ten Hag's shown he's not shy about making tough calls. He dropped Luke Shaw and captain Harry Maguire after two games, and his exclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo from the squad to face Chelsea last weekend after the striker's refusal to come on against Tottenham was a real show of conviction and leadership.

Ronaldo was welcomed back into the starting XI against Sheriff on Thursday, though, evidence of Ten Hag finding the balance between authority and forgiveness, areas that Solskjaer, Mourinho and Rangnick all seemed to fall short in in different ways.

Of course, results are key. While it's still too early to draw any major conclusions here because who's to say they don't lose every game between now and the World Cup, there have undoubtedly been positive signs with wins against the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham. Even the draw at Chelsea was morale-boosting.

Crucially, United need to give Ten Hag time. If Solskjaer can be given three years, Ten Hag surely needs at least that long as well.

The first few months of his reign have certainly suggested United are on the right track with their latest 'Chosen One'.

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