Inside Manchester United’s axis of power and how Erik ten Hag’s fate will be sealed

Jean-Claude Blanc, now interim CEO of Man Utd, in conversation with Dave Brailsford and Sir Jim Ratcliffe – Getty Images/Jean Catuffe

It’s fair to say that Sir Jim Ratcliffe isn’t afraid to speak his mind. A number of Ineos executives involved with his Ligue 1 club Nice had a WhatsApp group and at times Ratcliffe was not shy about sharing his bewilderment, for example at the selection of an interim manager in leftfield.

Invariably there was an explanation and Ratcliffe accepted it because he had confidence in the people appointed to run his numerous businesses. But the thing is, if he has a strong opinion about something, he’s unlikely to stick to his own advice. Manchester United’s staff were reminded of the same thing last week when they found a blunt email in their inbox from the club’s new king, condemning the lack of cleanliness and tidiness at Old Trafford and their Carrington training base.

So it’s safe to assume Ratcliffe will have an opinion on Erik ten Hag and his suitability as United manager. And when the time comes, he probably won’t be reluctant to share it. But make no mistake about the Ineos owner in charge there. Ten Hag’s future and that of his team are decisive decisions for the experts he entrusts to rebuild United. If they were the kind of individuals who would simply dance to the billionaire’s tune, it’s unlikely he would have hired them. the first place. Yes, men won’t cut it and, even more relevant, are the last thing United need right now as they try to unravel a decade of bad decisions.

The axis of power will ultimately revolve around incoming CEO Omar Berrada, new technical director Jason Wilcox and Dan Ashworth once a significant deal is struck with Newcastle for the sporting director. As things stand, this situation will be settled by arbitration this month.

With Berrada taking up the remainder of his gardening leave following his departure from Manchester City in January, Ineos Sport’s Jean-Claude Blanc was appointed interim CEO at the end of last month until Berrada formally starts on July 13.

As one of two Ineos representatives alongside Sir Dave Brailsford on the United Football Club board, Blanc’s longer-term involvement at Old Trafford will be in a more advisory role. But without Berrada and Ashworth physically working together on site alongside Wilcox at this critical moment, Blanc will provide an important bridge in the meantime. Not only will he give Berrada more eyes and ears on the ground, the 61-year-old Frenchman can provide a trusted voice, offering expert insight, recommendations and tapping into a broad network of contacts built up over the past 16 years in senior management. roles at Juventus and Paris St-Germain.

Blanc, who has a reputation for remaining calm in times of crisis and possessing strong interpersonal skills, knows all too well what it’s like to find himself in a maelstrom after taking over as CEO of Juventus in 2006, when the Italian club was engulfed by the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. New leaders of a company or organization often talk about the importance of the first 100 days and Blanc, who inherited a ‘mountain of problems to tackle at once’ at Juventus, would later admit how decisive that period was for the club . . “In those 100 days we made a lot of good decisions,” he said, including seducing Didier Deschamps as manager and convincing a number of star players such as Alessandro del Piero, Pavel Nedved and Gianluigi Buffon to stay at the club and in Italy to play. second division.

United thankfully don’t have a match-fixing scandal to contend with, but you can’t hide from the challenges that exist, both on and off the pitch. United’s new hierarchy sits eighth in the Premier League and is increasingly in danger of missing out on European qualification, already with little money to spend, a host of overpaid, underperforming players and a manager whose credibility and authority decreasing by the week. their work disappeared.

It’s now 78 days since Ratcliffe’s deal for a 27.7 percent stake in United was formally completed and they will reach that 100-day milestone in the days after the FA Cup final against Manchester City on May 25.

As reported by Telegraph Sport, United have no intention of sacking Ten Hag before that Wembley showpiece, but by then they should have built up a very thorough dossier of information on the manager, his general approach, the relationship with the dressing room and the references and availability of players. potential replacements from which they will make a final decision after careful, considered reflection.

There are several components to that, and that is where Wilcox really comes to the fore. One of his key roles as technical director is to establish the right ‘game model’ – in other words, a coherent playing style and identity – from which managerial, signing and selling decisions will flow – and not the other way around. Directly linked to this, Wilcox is effectively monitoring Ten Hag and his line-up and will report back on where he believes United’s problems lie this season and whether – all things considered – the Dutchman is suitable for them in the future or that his position is considered untenable. Armed with all that information, Ashworth as sporting director would normally be the one to make the final recommendation to the board, but as the wait for his arrival continues, Wilcox, Berrada and Blanc will be key to determining Ten Hag’s fate, even if it’s hard to believe that Ashworth won’t be consulted in some form.

Jason Wilcox arrives at Old TraffordJason Wilcox arrives at Old Trafford

Manchester United technical director Jason Wilcox has been tasked with defining the club’s ‘playing model’ – Getty Images/Matt McNulty

Brailsford has been carrying out its own assessment on behalf of Ratcliffe since December, including face-to-face meetings with players, and will make its own recommendations in terms of resetting the culture at Old Trafford and improving performance across the board. Like Blanc, it is firmly expected that the former British cyclist’s role will become more withdrawn over time, but that seems unlikely until Ashworth and Berrada arrive on the scene.

It was Brailsford and Blanc who played an important role in Berrada’s appointment. They held informal meetings with figures from across the football spectrum as they searched for a replacement for Richard Arnold as CEO. Berrada’s name kept coming up in those conversations and ultimately paved the way for City’s approach. Berrada, for his part, was clear that United should appoint Wilcox, who impressed him as academy director at City before leaving last year to take over as Southampton’s sporting director.

With experience in negotiating complex transfers and contracts, such as Erling Haaland’s transfer to City from Borussia Dortmund, and Ashworth still waiting to start at Old Trafford, Berrada is expected to manage Wilcox during the period assist.

Whether Ten Hag will still be on board by then remains to be seen.

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