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No more compromise? Man Utd players must heed Ten Hag's warning to RVP

COMMENT: Was it a warning? Motivation? Or criticism? Erik ten Hag dropped a little grenade last week on Manchester United's dressing room which will have many inside looking over their shoulder...

He doesn't have them, confessed United's manager. He doesn't have the players to have this team playing as he wants. He's had to adapt. Tinker. And adjust his tactics to fit the players he inherited... rather than the players change their game to suit Ten Hag's system.

The Dutchman confessed all to former United striker Robin van Persie in a special, extended interview for BT Sport. Snippets were released last week, with Ten Hag's admission regarding his squad and how he wants to play deserving greater coverage.

"Of course I have a certain philosophy about how I want to see football," Ten Hag stated. "And one thing is I want to play attacking, I want to play proactive.

"It's not about the way you want to play, but the players - they decide and they dictate the philosophy of how you play. You have to adapt, definitely."

So for Ten Hag it's been he who's had to compromise to bring the best out of this group of players. But there was more, the manager delivering a real sting in the tail at the end...

"But for instance, for me, now football is you attack with 11 players and you defend with 11 players. So if you ask me about full-backs, you find them sometimes in positions you don't expect them. That's what I like, I'm looking for that type of player."

So he doesn't have them. Ten Hag doesn't have the players he needs to play as he wants. Something which we've covered here: A centre-forward. A midfield schemer... but this goes deeper than simply positions. With his words, Ten Hag is suggesting certain individuals cannot be coached to play to his system. Man for man. Position for position. On paper, you could argue Ten Hag has all the tools he needs to get this United team playing the brand of "attacking, proactive" football he wants. But something hasn't clicked and it's no stretch to suggest the manager has declared some of his current players uncoachable. Something which should set alarm bells ringing inside the dressing room.

Throughout the season we've had stories about Ten Hag being unconvinced about particular players. David de Gea, Harry Maguire among several. Of course, we also had Jadon Sancho's withdrawal from the frontline and his attempted rebuild. For all of this season's promise, including the triumph of the Carabao Cup, it's been hanging over this team that the manager is unconvinced about certain players.

There's been whispers. Flyers. And plenty of speculation in the press. But now we have it on record. Ten Hag declaring to Van Persie he cannot get this team to play as he wishes without more changes to personnel. He's managed to shake up morale. Improve team spirit. And drive out the negative influences. In terms of confidence. Unity. This group of players are as strong as any we've seen from a United squad for the past decade. But clearly for Ten Hag, that isn't enough.

However for this column, the onus should still be on the manager to work with these players and coach them to how he wants to perform. From the outside looking in, bar the Anfield result, the attitude and application is there. And it really should be on Ten Hag and his staff to work more with what he has.

But that's not to say he isn't trying. And it would be unfair to suggest otherwise. His approach to Sancho's problems is proof enough of that. Unfortunately, the England international is yet to respond as many hoped after his break in Doetinchem. An inconsistency which can also be leveled at many of his senior teammates.

So Ten Hag does have an argument. The positioning of Maguire and Luke Shaw. The passing game of De Gea. The match concentration of Scott McTominay and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Ten Hag could pull apart so many of those he's inherited and make a good case why he needs to move them on.

But the Dutchman arrived not as a chequebook manager. He's a strategist. A motivator. But above all a coach. And there's many under the gun that you fancy are capable of making Ten Hag's system work if given the right guidance.

Joao Cancelo arrived at Manchester City four years ago with a reputation of a solid fullback. A journeyman, though talented. No-one could have envisioned how under the guidance of Pep Guardiola the Portuguese would reinvent the role. Cancelo's success before his falling out with Guardiola really down to the manager and the player's own willingness to learn and adapt.

Are those established at United capable of the same? They certainly have the talent. But does Ten Hag have the patience? His comments to Van Persie suggests that's wearing thin.

That was a grenade last week. And many inside United's dressing room should be forewarned. A Cup and a top four finish won't be enough. For Erik ten Hag, the time for compromise is coming to an end.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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