Erik ten Hag has admitted Manchester United have purchased too many ‘average’ players in recent years and believes the pressure of playing for the club has proven too much to handle for some signings.
The United boss has looked to overhaul the squad since arriving at Old Trafford during the summer after they finished 13 points outside the top four last season.
Ten Hag revealed he had taken tips from Sir Alex Ferguson’s United teams and looked to focus on the mental aspect of players, citing the signings of Raphael Varane and Casemiro as the type of personalities he wanted to bring to the club.
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“Manchester United didn’t exactly have the fear factor last season,” Ten Hag told Voetbal International. There was no spirit. I saw no team dynamic in the squad.
“The mental resilience was very low. I saw that as an outsider – and I also noticed it in my first weeks at the club.
“I looked at the culture of the club. I asked ‘how did Manchester United become great? I looked at that very carefully and then saw that last season’s team looked fragile and vulnerable.
“The club has bought an unimaginable number of players in recent years who have not been good enough. Most purchases have been average – and at United average is not good enough. United’s shirt weighs heavily.”
“When we get players, you look at their quality and technical skills. But you also look at their mental quality, that mental resilience – and we had to bring that back.”
Have Man Utd been signing ‘average players’?
Ten Hag’s assessment, although perhaps brutal to some of his squad, echoes the sentiment that has followed the club in recent years.
United hoped to pursue a more ‘elite’ mentality when they hired Jose Mourinho in 2016 but, despite the Portuguese boss bringing the club their only post-Ferguson trophies, the mentalities of signings like Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku failed to match their price tags and reputations.
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The club also made costly investments in talents such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho – players who had proven their ability away from the limelight but who ultimately have struggled to adapt to the pressure of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Meanwhile, signings like Donny Van de Beek, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof are perhaps equally as frustrating for United, with the club handing costly long-term contracts to ‘average’ players who simply aren’t at the level to take Ten Hag’s side to the next level.
Of all of United’s signings in the past five or so years, only Bruno Fernandes can be considered a true, long-term success – a devastating assessment for a club that have been the biggest spenders in the Premier League during that time.
However, the club’s recruitment and playing squad has shown improvement under Ten Hag and the Dutchman has made a genuine effort to mould his team in the right manner with the signings of Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen in particular.
The onus is now on United to continue to support their manager and his vision for the squad and avoid falling into the familiar trap of prioritising name and reputation over suitability on and off the pitch.