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Woodward in disguise? How Ratcliffe is undermining Ten Hag and unsettling Man Utd dressing room

COMMENT: After the high of the Cup came the thud of reality. But was it a reality check that could've been avoided with a more pro-active approach from Manchester United's new ownership team ...?

As we say, Brentford delivered a reality check to United on Saturday evening - and in more ways than one. Yes, the visitors were lethargic. Yes, they appeared a step behind this rampant Bees team for much of the game. But the reality was they never wilted. They never collapsed. And in the end almost nicked the three points on the night. Only a piece of sheer genius from Ivan Toney - what a player this lad is turning out to be - saw Kristoffer Ajer find that 98th minute - and deserved - equaliser for the hosts.

In the aftermath, Thomas Frank paid the opposition a compliment. The Bees manager stating: "I think this performance was one or two levels higher than the 4-0 win against them.

"That's the interesting thing in football, why it's so strange and difficult to manage and understand sometimes."

Perhaps for Frank it was difficult to understand the result, but what was clear is this United team is very different to the one they hammered at the beginning of last season. United showed a resilience last night. Some real steel. And with a goalkeeper performing as Andre Onana did, you always have a chance.

So for Erik ten Hag, as he highlighted in his post-match duties, the keeper was good. The fighting spirit also. And the goal - and the quality it took - from Mason Mount was also a bonus, not least for the player, himself.

But for those expecting some momentum from that FA Cup thriller against Liverpool, it was hope misplaced. That momentum hit a brick wall. It was sucked away by the inaction of United's top brass during the international break.

After that quarterfinal tie, the past fortnight should've been 'all United'. A new era. A youthful new team. New heroes. Even a new style of play. And to be fair, we did get it - but not for long. The first 24 hours was a celebration of one of the great Man Utd v Liverpool encounters. An FA Cup classic if ever there was one. And all the heroism and achievements that came out over the 120 minutes.

But by Tuesday, it stopped. Stone dead. And the vacuum was filled by fresh job doubts for Ten Hag. From the very high of that Cup win, Ten Hag's future was suddenly up for discussion, with Gareth Southgate - of all people - touted as his replacement.

It was a story that made no sense. That had little credence. Yet it ran and ran for over a week. With Sir Jim Ratcliffe, so loud and brash leading into Sunday's Cup tie, not uttering a word in response. Indeed, it took Southgate, himself, to shutdown the rumourmill at his first major presser for the week. The England coach insisting he would never interview for a manager's job already filled.

Well done to the England coach. But Ratcliffe should've shut down the story days before then. Ten Hag and his players had created the club's new co-owner an opportunity. As we say, an opportunity to mark a new era. With a promise of exciting football and thrilling wins as we'd witnessed at Old Trafford. The chance to ride that high and garner some genuine momentum going into the season run-in.

Instead, the experts of 'marginal gains', blew it. Indeed, by their silence they shattered all that electricity and goodwill. It was back to the same old story of the top brass undermining the manager with press leaks about replacements. Unsettling the players about another managerial sacking. And doing so with the underwhelming proposition of a Southgate or Graham Potter being Ten Hag's replacement.

Even in the lead-up to Brentford, we had the story of Gary O'Neil being head-hunted for a 'coaching role' at United. Again, it was the Wolves manager who denied the story. And again, with the silence of Ratcliffe, all it did was further undermine Ten Hag and unsettle the dressing room. That United's manager, after the triumph over Liverpool, spent his Brentford pre-match presser batting away fresh doubts about his position was a disgrace. If Ed Woodward was still running things, the backlash would be swift. But as the inaction now stems from Ratcliffe we have crickets from United pundit class.

As we've stated in the past, this column championed Ratcliffe's buying - whether with Chelsea or United - into the Premier League. But his first months aren't living up to how the local press have it billed.

We've had Southgate and Potter linked with the manager's post. A move to add O'Neil to the staff without consulting Ten Hag. A willingness to pay huge money to land Dan Ashworth as technical director, who with a cv - in relative terms - is barely above average. And, of course, an almost fait accompli approach to tearing down Old Trafford and all that history and replace it with a complex where the football ground is just one of a multiple of 'entertainment' venues.

Go beyond the sunny headlines and the decisions and actions by Ratcliffe do leave a lot to be desired. Saturday night at the Gtech was just another example. The chance to publicly back the manager. To lift the players. And get everyone inside the club on the same page... Well, it was blown. An opportunity lost.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie


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