The woes at Manchester United have been a lot more forthcoming than the wins since Alex Ferguson retired.
But it’s easy to forget that when he arrived at Old Trafford, there was some job to do.
United had never quite replaced Matt Busby successfully, with the club experiencing only limited success after his reign.
Yet then, down from Scotland came a young manager who changed everything in the space of a few years.
And if rumours are to be believed, United now hope that up from the Netherlands will come a (fairly) young manager to change everything again.
Erik Ten Hag is one of the leading candidates for the vacant spot in the United dugout. It’s easy to see why.
He’s returned Ajax to the top of the Dutch game while also making them a serious European force too.
If he gets the job, whether he is a success will perhaps be the most important question in United’s recent history.
But what does Football Manager 2022 think of Ten Hag at United? We decided to stick him in charge of the Red Devils and set up a simulation to find out.
Firstly to transfers, which we all know is the best bit of Football Manager anyway.
With the game starting in summer 2021, Ten Hag had a chance to stamp his identity on the team straight away.
It became pretty clear that there were three types of signings the Dutchman wanted to make: strikers, wonderkids and wonderkid strikers.
His marquee signing was… bizarre.
Ten Hag snatched up Gabriel Barbosa in a deal worth £22.5million.
An interesting choice, but one that proved fairly pragmatic across the course of the season.
‘Gabigol’ netted seven times in 14 starts along with a handy four assists.
Ten Hag’s other summer striker signing was even more rogue, with French youngster Randal Kolo Muani joining from Nantes for £5.5million.
He played 18 times in the first campaign, not a single one of them a start, and scored twice.
But Ten Hag’s thirst for strikers was not quenched there; come January deadline day FC Cincinnati’s Brazilian wonderkid Brenner joined for £10million and, like the other two, became nothing more than a squad player.
January deadline day also saw attacking midfielder Pedro de la Vega join from Argentine side Lanus.
De la Vega joined summer signing and American prospect Samuel Sashoua as yet another wonderkid destined to sit on the Old Trafford bench.
Lessons from Donny van de Beek had clearly not been learnt.
— CONMEBOL Libertadores (@TheLibertadores) March 5, 2022
So now Ten Hag had made his impact on the squad, how would he line them up?
In our save he perhaps unsurprisingly stuck to a simple 4-2-3-1, and the personnel varied only slightly from what United fans have grown accustomed to in recent years.
Really, really slightly.
The back four featured Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, and Luke Shaw almost every match, but Harry Maguire was only used in rotation.
Not only that but he was also replaced as club captain by Cristiano Ronaldo. Ouch.
Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay were the preferred partnership at the base of midfield with Fred used sparingly, while unsurprisingly Bruno Fernandes played almost every match ahead of them.
When he was not used new boy De La Vega was preferred, flanked by Marcus Rashford on the left and Jadon Sancho on the right.
Ronaldo of course started, although occasionally Brenner or Barbosa took his place up front with Ronaldo going out wide.
De Gea retained his starting spot too to complete Ten Hag’s typical, and let’s just say hardly revolutionary, Manchester United starting XI.
Ten Hag’s signings didn’t set the world on fire, nor did his choice of personnel for most matches.
It was therefore perhaps no surprise that the fate of his first season in charge was similarly aggressively mixed.
He was knocked out early of both domestic competitions, by Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and Wolves on penalties in the FA Cup after a 2-2 draw in the Fifth Round.
In the league, there were good results, but consistency proved the club’s undoing in any potential title race.
A 2-0 victory over Arsenal in October was followed by a 1-0 loss to Brentford the following week, a 4-0 win over Leicester was followed by a 2-1 loss to Southampton, and so on and so forth United’s campaign went.
It took a final day victory to even secure Champions League football.
Ten Hag’s United only finished fourth thanks to a 2-0 win over Brighton.
In fact, they finished joint with fifth-placed Arsenal on 71, but two ahead on goal difference.
That left the Champions League, where United went on a heroic run to… the quarters.
They got out of their group easily enough and dispatched Barcelona in the First Knockout Round courtesy of a second leg comeback at Old Trafford. Ten Hag’s United overturned a 1-0 loss at the Nou Camp to win 3-2 on aggregate with Sancho, Fernandes, and Ronaldo bagging the goals.
But in the quarters they faced Manchester City, a draw that would bring the city of Manchester to a halt if it was to occur in real life.
A 2-1 win in the first leg at the Etihad gave United hope, but a second leg collapse saw City win 2-0 at Old Trafford and advance.
A lack of silverware was not ideal for Ten Hag in his first season, but comparing it to City’s campaign made things seem even worse.
City’s victory over United in Europe buoyed them on to victory in that along with the Prem and FA Cup.
Second Season Syndrome
A mixed first season for Ten Hag, so we simulated a second season to see if things changed.
But it didn’t.
When he was sacked in November 2022, we simulated the second season again…
…where he was also sacked in November 2022.
So, we gave it one last go and… yep, sacked again.
This time, at least, he made it to December.
It seemed that no matter what, the Ten Hag of our FM universe was doomed.
Over the three different summers, he made a variety of transfers.
But Weston McKennie, Alexis Salemakers, and Morato all failed to save him.
He was sacked first with the side 12th in the league, then in 8th, and finally in 10th.
On all three occasions Nick Cox, the club’s head of Youth Development, took over as caretaker manager before the cycle of United managers began again.
United fans will be pleased that FM, no matter how realistic, really is just a game.
By Patrick Ryan