Manchester United need a rebuild. That much has been clear for the last ten years. The entire club is in massive need of a rebuild and a restructuring, and the fans clamor for it every single year. They clamor for it every single year until it actually comes down to it. The reason they are not ready for a rebuild is due to their relationship with the players on the pitch. They want a rebuild but don’t want to lose the player they idolize, even if it will have a clearly positive effect on the team.
United’s Erik ten Hag & Raphael Varane ‘Problem’
Raphael Varane is a top defender, let’s get one thing straight here. He remains one of the best box defenders on the planet, and he is a valuable asset to most teams. But, that being said, he is not part of Erik ten Hag’s long-term plans. There is nothing wrong with this, and it does not mean that Varane is suddenly a bad defender.
Ball Progression & Angles
To be a centre-back in an Erik ten Hag system, you need to be capable of progressing the ball at a high level. Varane is not elite in this category and is also very limited on his weaker side. This cuts off a lot of passing angles when United is in possession, and due to his inability to carry the ball forward to a high level, it means United is often pressed high and suffocated by the opposition.
For instance, this season, Maguire’s progressive passing distance is 2361 yards in 478 minutes compared to 1221 for Varane in 343 minutes. This means Maguire averages carrying the ball 445.5 yards p90, compared to 321.3 p90 for Varane. Maguire also has more progressive carries with the ball than Varane and has carried the ball further when progressing through carries. The most impressive stat for Maguire is his passing into the final third, with Maguire having 44 compared to Varane’s 26. That’s an 8.30 p90 rate compared to 6.84.
Last season, Erik ten Hag was able to negate this issue with Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez opening up angles and progressing the ball. With their absence this season, that progression is non-existent. In this metric, Harry Maguire is quite clearly the superior of the two. Maguire has performed well when called upon and, in the battle for the right centre-back role, is currently the preferred option to Varane. This was the same last season when Maguire played second string to Varane. The manager does not view either player as a left center-back. There is no conspiracy against Varane, only the manager’s philosophy.
While Maguire is top-class at ball progression, he does lack the pace defensively to be an Erik ten Hag defender long-term. That’s why United are targeting Jean-Clair Todibo. Todibo is elite at ball progression and also has the pace going the other way that Harry Maguire lacks. Varane would be an asset to keep at United due to experience, but he does not fit the system and has proven to be unreliable due to injuries. You cannot demand Manchester United hire a manager to rebuild a club and then be annoyed when he begins to phase out players who do not fit his system. That’s not how football works.
When compared to Varane and Maguire, Todibo’s passing and progression stats are startling. Todibo has carried the ball a whopping 14,631 yards, compared to 7006 for Maguire and 4332 for Varane. Todibo has had more passes into the final third than the other two players, with 45, and has played an amazing 51 progressive passes. Maguire has played 28 and Varane 26. It is no surprise that Erik ten Hag wants Todibo, and the stats back up why.
The Sancho Situation:
For years, the social media fan base clamoured for a manager who was disciplined. A man who would come in and set down a marker. Put the players through their paces. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was branded too weak and too friendly to take over the dressing room. Erik ten Hag is now apparently unable to manage big players and is losing the dressing room due to this.
Jadon Sancho is a remarkably gifted footballer, but if the manager does not feel like you are pulling your weight in training, he has a right to act on that. Harry Maguire has been stripped of captaincy, dropped, and worked his way back without so much as a complaint. Jadon Sancho had to learn from Maguire’s professionalism, but he didn’t. Of course, we don’t know what went on behind the scenes truly, but after the Dutch manager sent Sancho to Holland to get back to fitness last season, it’s unlikely he’d suddenly turn on him for no reason and wish for his downfall.
The other rebuttal is now that ten Hag fell out with Ronaldo. Ronaldo was 36 years old on over £350,000 a week. You cannot, under any circumstances, as a footballer, walk off the pitch when your team is still playing and then do a live interview slating the manager. There is no coming back from that, no matter who you are. To say Erik ten Hag was unjustified in getting rid of Ronaldo is based on pure bias towards the player himself. If Wout Weghorst had walked off the pitch after not having played for Manchester United, the same contingent saying Ronaldo was right would have had a very different view.
Trust The Process:
You have to trust the process in situations like this. United have never seen through a process. The fans have always clamored to get a new manager in at the first sign of failure. Success is never linear, and even in everyday life, you have to fail in order to understand what it takes to truly succeed. If we get to the end of next year and there is no clear progress from Erik ten Hag at that stage, maybe it’s time to look for a change. But right now, you need to trust in a man who has a history of rebuilding struggling clubs and see where he can truly take us with a proper sporting structure behind him when Sir Jim Ratcliffe completes his takeover.
To rebuild, you have to lose players you love sometimes. As good as they may be, to progress, you may need to cut them off. To fly, you may need to sever ties with them. How can we know how good we’ll be without Varane, Sancho or Ronaldo? It’s not as if we’ve ever been outstanding with them. Why are we angry that they may now be leaving?