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Robins reminder: Can FA Cup success salvage Ten Hag tenure?

When Manchester United take on Coventry City in the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday afternoon, the significance will not be lost on Erik ten Hag.

A dismal second season in charge of the Red Devils has left the Dutchman clinging to his position, the arrival of new owners and the all but confirmed absence of Champions League football for next season has made his position uncertain.

Things began positively for Ten Hag last season. Though his debut campaign contained some humbling results, a top-four finish and League Cup success, the first piece of silverware for Manchester United in six years, appeared a step in the right direction at least.

But things have not continued on that upward curve. Money has been spent, and squandered, with poor recruitment a recurring theme at Old Trafford. Regardless of who is in charge next season, that must be the focus for Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos as the new regime gets to work.

So where exactly does Ten Hag stand?


Publicly, he has the backing of the new investors. Privately, and with boardroom changes aplenty, his situation is less clear. Managers elsewhere have achieved more, in less time, with less at their disposal. Brighton, Aston Villa, and Tottenham are all examples of that. But bigger names than Ten Hag, and elite players, have struggled at Old Trafford before him. Gary Neville even went as far as to claim his former team had become a ‘graveyard’ where promising managers and players fail to improve.

His future could hinge on how the season concludes. A thrilling FA Cup quarter-final win over Liverpool saw the Theatre of Dreams in a voice and spirit not often seen in recent campaigns. Since then, it’s been four games without a win, losing leads to Brentford, Chelsea and Liverpool. The openness of Ten Hag’s team is a huge concern, conceding more shots per game (17.9) than any other team in the Premier League. Only the bottom three and West Ham have higher expected goals against (xGA) figures than United this season.

A weekend at Wembley offers the chance of redemption and Ten Hag does not need to look far for inspiration. In the opposite dugout will be Mark Robins, the man often cited for saving Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and kickstarting a decorated dynasty that led to the Scot’s knighthood.

Three years into his tenure at Manchester United and the club without a trophy in four years, a run of eight league games without a win had piled the pressure on Ferguson, whose side sat 15th in the top flight.

A trip to face Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round offered a chance to find momentum. Ferguson, in search of something new, fielded Robins and the 20-year-old academy graduate grabbed the decisive goal in a 1-0 win at the City Ground.

United went on to beat Crystal Palace in a replayed FA Cup final, the first silverware of Ferguson’s time with the club and a moment that changed the course of English football forever.

After European Cup Winners’ Cup success the following season, Ferguson went on to lead Manchester United to 13 top-flight titles and a collection of silverware that makes him the most successful manager in English football history.

“Yeah, in football, sometimes it’s like this [fine line between success and disappointment],” Ten Hag said at his pre-match press conference when asked about Robins’ goal.

“A goal [like Mark Robins’ against Nottingham Forest in United’s 1990 cup-winning run], on the post or in the net, makes a huge difference. See 1966, it made England, only one time, but made them a world champion.

“I don’t put energy in this, if I am judged fairly or not fairly, that is,” Ten Hag continued on his future.

“I know what we are doing here. I know why I’m here, to bring trophies, to also create, economic value. So we are working on those and, in a process, yeah, you have setbacks.


“I can’t get say, going into emotions. No, I see it realistic, I see it rational. And I’m only focusing on my team and to improve my team, to improve the individuals. And that’s what I’m here for.

“No, I don’t have any concern [about the views of people on the outside]. What concerns me is that in 18 months I have never had my favourite team on the pitch in 18 months.”

How Ten Hag needs his turning point this weekend.

Read – Five of the best FA Cup semi-finals of modern times

See more – Remembering Roy Keane’s horror ‘tackle’ on Haaland

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