CRAIG HOPE: Newcastle were right to have no interest in Ten Hag

CRAIG HOPE: Newcastle were right to have no interest in Erik ten Hag two years ago… what would Manchester United give to have Eddie Howe on the touchline and Dan Ashworth in the stands?

  • Erik ten Hag was once linked with the Newcastle job after the ownership change 
  • Eddie Howe masterminded a brilliant 3-0 victory at Old Trafford on Wednesday
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’

Erik ten Hag was one of the names linked by agents with Newcastle’s new owners following the club’s takeover. Not that they needed proof, but the sight of Eddie Howe’s second-string toying with Manchester United’s broken strings was a reminder of how right they got their appointment and, by contrast, how badly wrong it has gone for the Dutchman.

Two Uniteds – one exactly that, the other disbanded. What would the fractured version give to have Howe on the touchline and Dan Ashworth in the stands, as was the case at Old Trafford on Wednesday during Newcastle’s 3-0 victory in the Carabao Cup?

In just two years, Newcastle’s owners have rebuilt a football club. In close to 20 years, the Glazers have pulled one down. One of these Uniteds used to be a proud institution, the other a mental institution. You can flip that now.

Football clubs have always been about the right people in the right places, as Graeme Souness routinely states on these pages. In head coach Howe and sporting director Ashworth, Newcastle have competence and credibility. 

They are, with the kindest of meaning, football squares taken very seriously in football circles. The clowns have left the circus at St James’ Park.

Eddie Howe masterminded a brilliant victory away at Man United on Wednesday night

Howe’s much-changed side displayed the squad’s togetherness and continued progress under his management

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Sporting director Dan Ashworth has also been key to the recent success of the Magpies

Man United do not have the equivalent of Ashworth – quite literally, no one in that role – and you could almost extend that to Howe, a manager who exposes his players to myriad avenues for improvement and, at the same time, protects them fiercely. Man United do not have that, either.

Ten Hag has entered dangerous territory, publicly giving his players a boot up the backside in a bid to preserve his own. Managers who do that usually find a knife a little higher than their behind.

Around Howe, meanwhile, is an elite group of coaches, sports scientists and analysts. Ten Hag has Steve McClaren, the former Newcastle boss who is a symbol of the club’s dysfunctional past. He spent Wednesday night scribbling furiously on a piece of paper. Whatever he was plotting was ignored on grass. It should be a scary thought for Man United supporters, but if Ten Hag goes then McClaren would likely be caretaker. Roll up, roll up.

Come the end of the game, Newcastle were as good as putting on an open training session for their 7,000 supporters, as Howe himself revealed. It makes you wonder, should Sandro Tonali – banned from ‘competitive football’ for 10 months – have been allowed to play?

‘The intention (bringing on Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier) late on was to give minutes to players to use as their training session for this week,’ said Howe.

Maybe his words were not as unwitting as originally thought. It was, after all, Ten Hag who caused him to swear for the only time last season. The Man United boss – shortly after a dinner date with Sir Alex Ferguson, by chance – had attempted some mind games by claiming Newcastle were time-wasters.

But the mind games proved a brain freeze. ‘If they want a fast game, let’s f****** give it to them,’ Howe told his players ahead of a 2-0 Premier League win in April.

Ten Hag has Steve McClaren (right), the former Newcastle boss who is a symbol of the club’s dysfunctional past

Luke Shaw said then that Newcastle had shown more desire than Man United. That was an easy get-out. He forgot to mention that his team were out-thought as well as out-fought. 

Six months on and Howe is still schooling Ten Hag, a rival eight years his senior and, by comparison, a Champions League veteran. Their careers, you feel, are heading in opposite directions, much like their respective football clubs.

Man United’s incoming co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe would do well to take a look at Newcastle. Ashworth often uses the metaphor of him being at the centre of the wheel, connecting the departmental spokes of the club. Ratcliffe, worryingly for Man United, intends to use Sir Dave Brailsford in a key football role, the cycling specialist more used to literally connecting spokes.

Whatever appointments are made, they first have to revisit those the current owners have got wrong. That should start with the manager. The likes of Howe and Ashworth are the men Man United need. They, though, would not be interested, just like Newcastle were right to have no interest in Ten Hag two years ago.


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