For many Manchester United fans, the day of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement from the football world is remembered as the beginning of the dark age for the Red Devils.
Under Sir Alex’s management, Manchester United had risen from the ashes to become a world-renowned club that is considered to be one of the most famous sports teams in the world. For decades, it seemed like no one could ever stop Sir Alex and his men from winning trophy after trophy, season after season, while they toppled other world-class football clubs, one after another.
Manchester United’s seasons that followed Sir Alex’s retirement in 2013 were riddled with disappointment, poor performances, questionable signings and a rapidly declining respect among other clubs’ fans for the boys in red.
Gradually disappearing was Manchester United’s presence in big competitions such as the UEFA Champions League in which the team failed to qualify in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2022.
A total change of seven managers during this dark time did little to prevent fans from suffering annual heartaches. Though United did manage to add some silverware to its trophy cabinet, the team’s win rate of 45% in March of last season was its lowest since 1989-1990. Yes, back in the days of the USSR.
The pressure to get the club out of such a troublesome period now rests on the shoulders of one Dutchman: Erik ten Hag.
Ten Hag took the world by storm when he left his managerial position at AFC Ajax to join Manchester United as its new manager in April 2022. Though many believed in an optimistic future, some remained quite skeptical since ten Hag never played for or managed an English team.
The first two games that Manchester United played in the 2022-2023 Premier League season came with disappointing results as the team lost two consecutive games, including a loss to Brighton in the season opener at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, Rome was not built in a day, and the newly-appointed manager made sure to keep this mentality with him. Ten Hag needed time to implement his philosophy, and results would eventually follow.
From Nov. 10 to Jan. 14 of this year — a period interrupted by the World Cup — Manchester United went on a nine-game win streak. This included an upset 2-1 victory over Manchester City, a team considered superior in terms of individual talent and past performance.
Ten Hag also did what many preceding managers could have only hoped to accomplish — signing new players that actually made the team more complete. The most prominent example is the signing of Casemiro, a defensive midfielder who arrived from Real Madrid in August 2022.
The Dutchman realized the importance of a midfielder who is able to win the ball, make short and long passes and most importantly, score goals in clutch moments. Five-time Champions League winner Casemiro was exactly the player United truly craved.
Ten Hag’s biggest achievement as a Manchester United manager so far, however, is his successful effort to end the club’s six-year trophy drought by conquering the 2023 Carabao Cup at Wembley Stadium against Newcastle United. The victory also saw Casemiro’s true impact on the team, as he scored one goal and was named man of the match.
The revival of Manchester United does not stop there, however, as the team is currently aiming to bag two more trophies. This includes the UEFA Europa League tournament, in which Manchester United is enjoying monumental success with victories over Real Betis and F.C. Barcelona.
The team is now currently in the quarterfinal of the Europa League and is one of the strongest contenders still in the competition alongside Juventus.
The English FA Cup is also another competition where ten Hag is looking forward to winning. With Manchester United facing Brighton, currently seventh in the Premier League, in the competition’s semifinal, there is a solid chance that the Red Devils will come away with another domestic cup.
Although there is no guarantee that ten Hag and United will bring either of the two trophies back to Manchester, there is one thing that can be confirmed: United fans will continue to back their team through thick and thin. I, for one, will always proudly root for my club regardless of how long it will take for us to be as untouchable as the good old Fergie days.