Erik ten Hag has defended his strong disciplinary measures at Manchester United after a turbulent fortnight, with the Dutchman saying there was “no good culture” at the club before he arrived last year.
Since United last played against Arsenal on September 3, Jadon Sancho has been told to train away from the first team following his public outburst against Ten Hag, while Antony has delayed his return to training following the international break amid allegations of assault.
Ten Hag wants Sancho to apologise to him and the club, otherwise he will not play for United under the manager.
However, Sancho has so far refused to meet Ten Hag’s demands for an apology, believing he was within his rights to respond to the criticism that was shared to a global audience and he saw as questioning his professionalism.
In his press conference before United face Brighton on Saturday, Ten Hag highlighted the importance of managing the different characters in the squad and says nobody has been harshly punished for just one mistake.
It’s about team construction, the group dynamic,” he said. “But it’s about the team, the team is above everything else.
“In that team, anyone plays their role and anyone is different. There are different characters and you have to manage those characters. But the team is always above everything else.
The club asked me, because there was no good culture before I entered last season, to set some standards. So it’s my job to control the standards.
“Of course, it’s never been someone making one mistake, it’s a whole process before you come to a certain outcome about strict lines. Staff, players, or whoever, if there is a structure to cross lines, you have to be strong, absolutely.”
Ten Hag has no problem with players approaching him privately to discuss his decisions but they cannot criticise him or the club, or vent their frustrations, in a public forum.
Sources close to Sancho feel he has been unfairly treated and that there has been an inconsistent implementation of the rules at the club, with some in the squad seen as being given preferential treatment.
However, United’s counter is that Ten Hag’s application of football-related discipline has been indiscriminate, stretching to Marcus Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alejandro Garnacho when they have breached required rules or standards.
Sancho’s and Antony’s absences mean United have a lack of options on the right wing. Alejandro Garnacho, Facundo Pellistri and Marcus Rashford are the most recognised wide options that remain, while Bruno Fernandes can also play off the left.
“The squad is strong, in good spirit, good mood and we go into the game,” Ten Hag said. “They are very good. You have sometimes setbacks in seasons, players are injured or for other reasons not available. So you construct a squad. Those who are available, are motivated.”
Asked when he expects to see Antony back at United, Ten Hag said: “No idea. Of course, he’s disappointed but he is ok.”
‘Maguire treatment is crazy – he has to block it out’
Ten Hag also jumped to the defence of under-fire defender Harry Maguire, who endured a difficult last week with England.
The centre-back was jeered at every touch in Tuesday night’s friendly win over Scotland before scoring a second-half own goal. England manager Gareth Southgate blamed “people in our own country” for the treatment of Maguire, which he described as an “absolute joke”.
Maguire, who was jeered in a similar fashion by Arsenal fans in his last Premier League outing, says he can handle the heat, but his mother came out on social media to say the treatment went beyond football.
Asked about Maguire’s treatment, Ten Hag said: “I have said many times, it’s not respectful. He doesn’t deserve it. It’s crazy but it’s how it works. Harry has to block this by performances.
“If you see his career, it’s a great career. He has a lot to come, he has to block it by good performances.”
What Ten Hag and Sancho said about each other
“On his performance on training, we didn’t select him,” Ten Hag said when asked about Sancho’s absence from the squad against Arsenal.
“You have to reach the level every day at Manchester United. You can make choices in the front line so in this game he wasn’t selected.”
But following Ten Hag’s comments in the post-match press conference, Sancho issued a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying: “Please don’t believe everything you read!
“I will not allow people saying things that is completely untrue. I have conducted myself in training very well this week.
“I believe there are other reasons for this matter that I won’t get into. I’ve been a scapegoat for a long time which isn’t fair!
“All I want to do is to play football with a smile on my face and contribute to my team.”
Sancho has since deleted his social media post on X.
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