Ten Hag’s massive own goal as he admits Ronaldo has his own rules

Paul Macdonald
Paul Macdonald
  • Updated: 2 Oct 2022 18:05 BST
  • 4 min read
Cristiano Ronaldo, Man Utd, 2022-23
© ProShots

Erik Ten Hag said the quiet part loud. And it shows that he’s got a long way to go to understand what you can and cannot say as manager of Manchester United.

The Dutchman told journalists after his side’s 6-3 decimation at the hands of Manchester City in the derby that he left Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench for the entirety of the match “out of respect for his big career”.

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There are certain things that may be carefully understood by everyone watching, but that just can’t be said publicly, and Ten Hag’s statement here is undoubtedly one of them.

For every time the camera pans to the bench to show Ronaldo seething in anger at not being able to play, it reflects on ETH and not in a way he’ll appreciate. When your team is winning matches, it’s easier to justify leaving him out. If your team is torn apart, it’s simply ammunition for everyone who thinks Ronaldo should play every week.

Ten Hag has been steadfast in his decision-making around Ronaldo; he wanted to leave and tried everything possible to do so, and ETH simply doesn’t think he fits into how he wants to set up this team. But Ronaldo’s continued presence in the background is like an eternal memory of how things used to be at Old Trafford.

Ten Hag's own goal

And above all of that, Ten Hag’s statement is a startling admission. What exactly is he saying? That Ronaldo shouldn’t be subjected to a humiliating defeat, but everyone else can? His wording artificially generates a club hierarchy which may or may not exist anyway, but has been created within one sentence. It seems like it’s literally one rule for Ronaldo, and another for the rest of the players.

Erik ten Hag on the Man Utd touchline.
© ProShots

And this is also how conspiracy theories begin. Did Ronaldo potentially not want to come on in such circumstances? No-one is making that admission but that’s the kind of leap that people can make without some context of what exactly this means.

Ten Hag also said to Sky Sports that he was surprised and that four weeks ago he witnessed “a different team”. “We didn’t follow the principles and rules and we had indiscipline,” he added. Formulating a hierarchy with statements like the one he made about Ronaldo will not help with any levels of indiscipline and only serves to put a wedge in between him, his players and Ronaldo.

Man Utd torn apart

Because this squad clearly need managing from a psychological perspective, as well as tactical. Before City had even settled into the game, they looked nervous and in awe of the occasion. Their passing lacked any kind of fluency. They were slack, out of position, and a yard off. This isn’t all down to the quality of the personnel. There is clearly a weakness mentally within this team which is easily triggered if things aren’t going well.

And quite a lot of them would have been wished to have been spared the ignominy of being blown apart by Erling Haaland and Phil Foden. Ronaldo’s been spared it at the expense of everyone else and that will be galling to a dressing room full of international stars.

Ronaldo is causing a headache for Ten Hag even when he isn’t doing anything, almost as much as he does when he is on the field. This could prove to be a pivotal problem for ETH as he tries to work out how to fix a team which seems irrevocably broken.

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