Ten Hag must learn from Mourinho to ensure Man United’s Carabao Cup win is just the start

“We want more. I have a long contract, so hopefully I can win something else.”

These words are very similar to what Erik ten Hag might have said after Manchester United’s Karabakh League Cup final victory over Newcastle United on Sunday, but they come from José Mourinho, who was sitting in the same seat at the Wembley press conference. Exactly six o’clock. years ago.

Like Ten Hag, Mourinho won the League Cup in his first season at Old Trafford and then said he wanted more. Three months later, Mourinho still had a lot to do in the UEFA Europa League stretched vase, but just over a year later, Mourinho left, sacked in December 2018 after a series of disagreements with the board over transfers and mileage. disastrous results.

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The 2017 League Cup, secured by a 3-2 win over Southampton, was not the platform it should have been, and has since gone down in history as a rare good day in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson downturn. Ferguson used cup competitions, especially success in the FA Cup in 1990 and the League Cup in 2006, to induce periods of sustained success. The question for Ten Hag is simple: how will his 2023 League Cup triumph be remembered?

It’s easy to look back, but even during the Wembley celebrations in 2017, there were signs that not all was well with Mourinho at United. In fact, the second question at the winners’ press conference suggested exactly that.

“Jose,” it began, “for someone who’s just won a trophy, you don’t look too cheerful or happy.”

“I am very happy,” Mourinho replied, saying it with the face of a man who does not look like him at all. “I am very happy. This is important for the fans and for the players. I always try to put myself in a secondary position, but the reality is that this is important for me too. It’s a relief.”

The difference in Ten Hag’s behavior on Sunday was completely different. After dancing on the pitch with Anthony and Lisandro Martinez, he sat down at the press conference with a big smile. He said roughly the same thing that Mourinho said six years ago: “If we keep working and keep working, we can win even more,” but he was in good enough mood to joke, since he left, he almost forgot to take with a trophy.

Ten Hag has cracked down on team discipline since taking over last summer, but he has also made sure to connect with his players and fans, which is something Mourinho always seemed to struggle to do.

Under Carabao Cup rules, clubs are not required to hold pre-match press conferences for any round leading up to the semi-finals, and for the first time this season, United have used this time to invite fans to the Carrington training ground and pose their own questions to Ten Hag. Fans from all over the world took advantage of this opportunity and it went well every time.

Mourinho could understand his task at Old Trafford, but Ten Hag seems to understand the club.

After winning the League Cup and Europa League in his first season, Mourinho finished second in the Premier League in his second year and lost in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea. It was at this point, however, that his reign began to crumble. He had already lost his patience with star player Paul Pogba and was increasingly frustrated with the club’s transfer deals in the summer of 2018.

Deciding that he wanted to go for Anthony Martial, Mourinho was convinced the idea was blocked because the French forward was the favorite player of club co-chairman Joel Glazer. Mourinho also asked to sign a new centre-back but was told targets Harry Maguire and Jérôme Boateng were too expensive, too old and injury-prone respectively. Transfers can be controversial for any manager and Ten Hag needs to be careful how he navigates the summer window to avoid falling into the same trap as Mourinho.

Having taken such a huge step forward in his first season, United will be expected to mount a real title challenge and the Dutchman will quite rightly want a team that can deliver. Ten Hag hasn’t been shy about pushing to bring in more players – winger Anthony last summer, striker Wout Weghorst and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer in January – and will do so again, but, in his own skin, Mourinho has learned that overreaching can be dangerous. mark.

Due to financial fair play concerns, United are planning to spend between £100m and £200m over the summer and it will be the job of director of football John Mertow to balance Ten Hag’s demands with the club’s financial constraints. In particular, a new striker is vital if United are to take it to the next level.

Mourinho thought the League Cup would give a first taste of success to a team destined for bigger and better, and the fans at Wembley that day probably thought the same. That it didn’t happen serves as a fitting reminder for Ten Hag – not that he needs him – that there is work to be done to complete his revolution at Old Trafford and put United back in the top tables. both in England and in Europe.

Mourinho’s League Cup proved to be nothing more than a brief highlight. Ten Hag wants him to be the start of their series.


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