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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Erik ten Hag: Man United manager says he ‘knows future’ with Brailsford, backs Antony

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag says he “knows the future” under Sir David Brailsford’s expected leadership of the club’s football operations and has backed winger Antony despite the £86 million winger’s failure to produce a single Premier League goal or assist this season.

Brailsford, who is the head of performance for the Ineos Group which is owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe and has taken over the football side of United, watched on as Ten Hag’s side suffered their first defeat of 2024 on Saturday with a shock 2-1 home defeat against Fulham.

Harry Maguire equalised in the 89th minute at Old Trafford but Alex Iwobi’s 97th-minute winner for the visitors, who had not won away since the opening day of the season, has left United three points shy of fifth-placed Tottenham with a game less to play.

Fifth place is likely to be sufficient to qualify for the Uefa Champions League but businessman Ratcliffe has made it clear that he expects United to be challenging higher up the table, having spent more than £1 billion on a 27.3% stake to oversee a team which had a dismal first half of the campaign, leading to scrutiny of Ten Hag’s position.

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“A lot of effort is [going] in today,” said Ten Hag. “But we also look forward to longer term. About future? I know the future.

“But also, I have to look at today and we have to work on the team’s development and progress and, of course, to win every game. That is what we are doing.”

United’s Antony ‘resilient’

United have lost 10 of their 26 top-flight matches this season and crashed out of the Champions League by finishing bottom of their group.

Part of Ratcliffe’s vision will be to end United’s reputation as a lavishly wasteful club in the transfer market, and Antony is seen as one of the players symbolising their inability to match performances with sky-high spending.

The Brazil international became one of Ten Hag’s first signings when he followed the Dutchman to the 20-time Premier League winners from Ajax in September 2022 but is without a goal involvement in 20 league matches this season.

“I’ve backed him for a long time,” Ten Hag said of the 24-year-old, whose minute on the pitch against Fulham was one of 24 he has participated in during United’s last four Premier League matches in a season when he also did not have a goal involvement in four Champions League outings.

“I know his abilities, great abilities, I know from the past he is unstoppable. No defender can stop him because he’s one of the quickest in the first 10 yards.

“When he plays that game, I’m sure he will perform. He is resilient, he is a character and he will fight back. I back him and he now has to wait for his chance. Once he is there, he has to pick up.”

United are away to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday, when Casemiro will return from a head injury which forced him off during the second half against the Cottagers.

“It was a bleeding, so he had to come off,” said Ten Hag. “It was definitely not to our advantage that he couldn’t continue the game but he is available.”

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