Erik ten Hag may have got his first big decision at Man United wrong 10 months ago

Erik ten Hag may have got his first big decision at Man United wrong

Ten Hag could have got the first big decision of his tenure wrong.

Erik ten Hag has said that Harry Maguire will continue as Manchester United captain next season, despite question marks about the player's form and performance in the role.


"He is an established captain for a few years and he has achieved a lot of success, so I don't doubt about this issue," Ten Hag said about Maguire on the club's pre-season tour of Asia.

The new Man United manager had the opportunity to change captaincy after Maguire struggled for form all last season. There was a chance to clean the slate and use a different method of selecting the captain.

Instead, the Dutch coach has doubled down in the hope that the player will grow into the role. Even at this early stage of his reign, it could be argued that Ten Hag has made the wrong decision.


Harry Maguire's time as Man United captain.

Maguire has been Man United captain since January 2020, when he was handed the armband by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite only joining the club a few months beforehand.

"He's come in and been a leader in the group. I've been, not surprised, but I've been impressed by his leadership skills, so Harry will keep on wearing the armband," Solsjkaer said at the time, offering very little reasoning for his decision.

At the time, the defender was already under scrutiny after joining the club from Leicester City for £80m, the most expensive transfer fee ever paid for a defender. Did Maguire really need the added pressure of being Man United captain? Everything that has happened since has suggested not.

Maguire has failed to justify his position as skipper, or as the world's most expensive defender. After each sub-par performance, his transfer fee and role as club captain have been questioned, and not just by fans on social media or pundits.


According to reports, Maguire's form last season was so poor that sections of the dressing room were questioning why he was the captain. Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have challenged the England defender's authority and there was a group in the United squad who wanted the Portuguese forward to be skipper.

Maguire may not be as bad as his form last season suggested, and not as bad as many of his detractors appear to believe he is.

However, even his biggest supporters couldn't argue that he has looked comfortable as Man United captain. The armband appears to have hindered his performances, putting an added spotlight on a player clearly struggling.


Ten Hag had the opportunity to hit the reset button, to correct one of Solskjaer's many mistakes. There was a clear solution to the issue, one that would have saved Maguire from embarrassment. The new United manager simply had to mirror Manchester City's approach.

Man City's captaincy.

In May 2021, Kevin de Bruyne captained Man City in the Champions League final against Chelsea. A few months later, when the new Premier League season began, the Belgian midfielder had been demoted in the club's captaincy ranking.

De Bruyne went from vice-captain, behind club captain Fernandinho, to fourth in line. Ilkay Gundogan became vice-captain and Ruben Dias was the new third-choice captain. How did this happen? How did Pep Guardiola manage to make such manoeuvrings and not upset a dressing room full of international players? And how did one of the world's most famous footballers handle such a demotion?


It was quite simple, really. Man City's squad votes at the start of each season to pick a club captain. Guardiola has used this method of selecting the skipper since long-time captain Vincent Kompany left the club in 2019.

If De Bruyne was upset by the snub, it didn't show. The Belgian had one of his best seasons ever last year and there was never any suggestion that he was affected by the captaincy demotion. Something that had the potential to be a dramatic fallout was a non-event.

Guardiola wisely used a way of selecting a captain that ensured no members of his squad could feel hard done by. A democratic method that left no room for managerial favouritism or over-promotion.

None of the players can be upset by the captaincy choice because it is voted for by the majority of the squad. And the elected captain knows that he has the support of the dressing room.

Maguire remains as Man United captain.

Contrast this approach with Man United's. Solskjaer named Maguire the captain far too soon. He became the beneficiary of managerial favouritism and has since failed to justify his elevated position.

Ten Hag had the opportunity to change track by letting the squad choose the next skipper. This could have had a unifying effect on a seemingly disjointed group of players. Maguire may have even been named captain again.

And if he was, the questions over whether he should be captain would no longer be as relevant - as he would have the support of the majority of the dressing room and his new manager. This could have been the confidence boost he needed to improve his performances.

Maguire could also have been saved from embarrassment if someone else was voted captain. It would have been a democratic decision, and there's no shame in being demoted in this way, as De Bruyne's situation proves.

Now, however, the question marks remain about the player's suitability to be captain. Unless Maguire's form dramatically improves next season, this won't change and Ten Hag will arguably have fluffed his first big test as United manager.

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