Erik ten Hag continues to receive important calls at Old Trafford, and even when emotion could normally enter the equation, he has viewed the situation more clearly than anybody else.
Flashback to the summer months as Manchester United prepared to embark on a pre-season tour that included stops in Thailand and Australia to hone their shooting skills for the upcoming season. Despite his absence due to family obligations, Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed center stage.
But that was before the squad retreated to Manchester. During that time, Ten Hag offered Anthony Martial an unexpected lifeline, and Marcus Rashford began his incredible redemption.
If things had gone differently, both players would have been let go, leaving United to rely on an aging but still prolific Ronaldo to lead their line for at least one season with Ten Hag at the helm. Yet the Dutchman and his backroom staff had other plans, which have subsequently been proven correct.
United reversed their stance on Martial, and Ten Hag effectively jeopardized his connection with Ronaldo in order to fully embrace the former. Until an expected speedbump crept in from the horizon, early season goals and assists demonstrated Martial had the correct profile for Ten Hag and his club.
Martial has only played 14 games this season due to five consecutive injury setbacks, and United played their 44th on Sunday afternoon when they drew with Southampton. During the stalemate at Old Trafford, stopgap replacement Wout Weghorst made his 16th appearance for United since joining on loan in January.
Surprisingly, that is one more than the frail Martial, 27, has achieved in the previous two years.
United are willing to sell Martial when the market reopens in order to fund their intended move for Harry Kane, and this has little to do with performance. Despite his best efforts, the Frenchman has simply not been viable or reliable for United for an extended period of time.
Weghorst as a long-term option has obvious downsides, and the Netherlands target man’s performances continue to divide opinion. Yet the one point of view that matters – Ten Hag’s – has remained unwavering, comparable to how the manager put his whole trust in Martial even having Ronaldo to cope with.
Ten Hag showed amazing clarity at a time when he lacked clout in the locker room. Naturally, his interactions with Ronaldo heightened that, as did encourage on-field performances and, eventually, that first trophy in the bag, with two more clearly on his and the squad’s radar.
Whatever people say, Weghorst will be at the forefront of those allegations, even if his ungainly style and lackluster goal threat at this level make him a huge target for criticism. Anyone with such a vendetta against him, on the other hand, has completely missed the point.
Ten Hag had to act swiftly, aggressively, and with restrictions to locate a stop-gap solution with Martial being a frequent visitor to the treatment table and Ronaldo leaving his departure mid-season. He clearly wants to score more goals, but Weghorst has stood tall and is happy to contribute to the cause.
Ten Hag’s judgment will not be clouded by emotion as he pursues Kane and makes arrangements for next season. Even those who are skeptical must admit that he got it right with Weghorst, as he did with Martial on both occasions when putting his trust in him and then swiftly replacing him.