Just a few weeks in and already it’s clear that Erik ten Hag’s hard-line approach at Manchester United is rubbing off on his new squad.
Three games on tour and three wins. United are creating chances and scoring plenty of goals. The team looks energised.
Of course, it’s only pre-season and there have been more than a few false dawns at Old Trafford in the nine years since Sir Alex Ferguson stood down. No-one should be getting carried away just yet.
Manchester United stars seem to appreciate Erik ten Hag’s authoritarian regime in pre-season
But there is no doubting the impact Ten Hag has had in a short space of time. Perhaps most of all, the players seem to appreciate being brought to heel by the Dutchman’s authoritarian regime after the arm-around-the-shoulder approach of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the lost months under Ralf Rangnick.
‘I think we missed that for a while,’ said Bruno Fernandes. ‘For me, discipline is not only the way you play on the pitch – the position that you have, what you have to do – it’s also off the pitch. Don’t be late for the meetings, don’t be late for the meals.
‘I think that’s really important because if everyone is on time and someone comes late, he should be punished. It’s really good he’s doing that and for me amazing, because I like to be on time so I won’t have problems with that.’
It isn’t just the threat of being fined or dropped if they are late that has got United’s stars towing the line.
Bruno Fernandes insists United missed being put to work by a tough manager in recent years
Ten Hag’s style is in contrast to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the lost months under Ralf Rangnick
Alcohol is forbidden during match weeks, effectively imposing a booze ban for the rest of the season. Players will be subjected to regular weigh-ins and penalised if they are out of shape. They have been told to get rid of their personal chefs and eat the food provided by the club which has been ungraded.
Everyone must put the team before themselves and Ten Hag has warned them about the consequences of leaking dressing-room information.
On tour, players are being made to do press-ups as a punishment if they fail at a certain discipline, whether it’s during double training sessions in the humidity of Bangkok or even the pre-match warm-ups.
Bruno Fernandes is enjoying life under United’s new manager
In Melbourne, plans for MUTV to film some of the squad on the set of Neighbours was swiftly kicked into touch by the manager.
Ten Hag doesn’t want any distractions from the football and spoke to us earlier this week about the importance of discipline within camp. Club sources talk about a more businesslike approach permeating the club.
‘We have to follow his ideas, and I think everyone is doing that,’ said Fernandes.
‘It’s been easy because he’s really clear what he wants and what he demands from the players. His ideas are clear, the rules are clear, so we just have to follow that.
‘Obviously he demands a lot and that’s good. We know that if we don’t do what he wants, you’re out of the team, you don’t play.
‘I think that’s a good thing. Everyone knows that even if you don’t score goals or don’t assist, if you do what he asks you to do, he’ll be okay with that.’
That is particularly important for Fernandes whose role at No.10 involves taking risks and often giving the ball away.
The signs have been good for United after some positive results in their pre-season friendlies
That didn’t seem to matter so much when he scored 28 goals in his first full season at United, but became more of an issue when that figure dropped to 10 last term.
‘I try a pass when I think I have to do it and sometimes it goes good, sometimes wrong,’ added Fernandes.
‘When you play in the No.10 position, sometimes you have only a few seconds to think and control the ball and make the pass, so it’s not that much time.
‘When I arrived in 2020, I was losing the same amount of balls but I scored 28 goals, so people don’t complain about that. Now last season, because I scored only 10 – because for some people it’s only 10 goals – they start complaining.
‘But I’m okay with that, I don’t worry. I do my best, I always try to help my teammates. They know that even when I miss the passes, I’m trying to give something to them.
‘Obviously I will have to do what the coach demands from me because he thinks it’s the best for the team – and, for me, the best for the team is the best for me.’
Ten Hag couldn’t have put it better himself.
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