When Erik met the fans: Read every word
A group of Manchester United supporters were afforded a unique opportunity on Wednesday afternoon, as they gathered at Carrington to put questions to the club's manager, Erik ten Hag.
Representatives of 12 supporters' clubs - from High Peak in Derbyshire to Kerala, India - took part, questioning the boss on a range of topics, from his ambitions at United to what his plans are for players not at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
Erik also revealed what he does during his limited time away from football, and had a word or two to say about the fighting spirit he's working so hard to engender in the dressing room.
You can read every word from the fans' press conference below, starting with an opening statement from Erik himself...
“We are very happy you’re here, first of all. We want commitment, we want engagement and we want co-operation with the fans. So we are happy to do this event together, so that fans have the opportunity to ask questions about the manager, ask questions about Manchester United in general, so we are happy you’re here. I’m looking forward to our meeting here.”
Keith & Lise Udale, High Peak | Afternoon, Erik. Two-part question really. First part: have you planned many changes for tomorrow based on Sunday’s game? The second part is can you give us an update on the injured players? Is anybody back tomorrow?
“Yes, I can do. First of all, all the games who we play has only one aim: we have to win. That is the most important, eh? We have to win so we put the best players on the pitch we have. For every game, we make a proper plan and also a line-up, so for tomorrow that is the same. But of course we have a lot of games to cover, this is a different league [competition], so we plan some changes but we want to play a strong team and we have only one aim: we have to win tomorrow and we want to go to the next round. On the injuries update, there are some players coming back and also some questions marks as you have seen. Anthony Martial, for the last 20 minutes, was back at Villa so we are happy with that. We hope that tomorrow he can continue this. He will be in the squad, we have to see, he will have minutes, definitely if he has recovered. Yesterday we had a day off so tonight we have the final training and we will see if he is capable to play for minutes. On the rest, Jadon Sancho, we have to wait, Antony we have to wait today on final training.”
Shang-Ju Yang & Hsin Wen, Taiwan | After the frustrating result on Sunday, how do you expect the players to respond and what do you want to see from the team in the last home match before the World Cup?
“Yeah, we had a good series of games and we played a lot of games after each other. I know players are not robots but we were not happy with our performance at Villa Park on Sunday. We made it quite clear in our analysis: it’s not acceptable, it’s never acceptable. We have to deliver every game and that is the culture that has to be here. It’s not good. We can’t change that anymore but it’s clear, we want a reaction tomorrow from the team. We want to get back to what I’ve seen over the last couple of months. A change in attitude, a better winning attitude and, tomorrow, we have to bring that on the pitch.”
Craig Dilley & Laura Dennis, Bedfordshire | The Carabao Cup is sometimes deemed the least important of the trophies to play for in the English season. How important is it to you personally to win it and how important is it to the current squad’s development to win it this season, more than any other?
“As I just said, it’s about the culture. The culture has to be understood by everyone around Manchester United, but the players in particular. We have to win every game. We take every game seriously, also in this cup. We want to win this cup.”
Sophie Williams & Sam Danson, Rainbow Devils | Given Garnacho’s recent performances, do you think we could see him again tomorrow and are any other young players a possibility?
“I am open to bringing in young players and you have seen the last couple of games we have brought in Alejandro Garnacho because he deserved it through his performances on the training pitch. If players deserve it and they can contribute to our success, we will bring them in. I’m also open to other players and Manchester United have a big reputation in bringing up young players through the Academy into the first team. So I’m really one who will back that process. I will really be positive in that process. I will have communication with the Academy, with the coaches from the Under-21s. We have, in our coaching staff, one who is responsible for the communication with the Under-21s and the Academy, so we have a good line. In the end, players have to deserve their chance, players have to contribute because it’s about winning. If they can, we will bring them in.”
Bjarte Valen, Scandinavia | Goede middag! Just describe what the first five months have been like at Manchester United, it’s an overall question…
“[laughs] I know all the Scandinavians are really good at Dutch, so you see the first lessons you have taken! Very good. The first five months… I knew from the start, it’s an exciting process but also a difficult process, because I think Manchester United was far away from the standards that we need to be top. So we’ve worked for the last five months on the process and, as you see, it goes up and down. Sometimes you have to swallow bad performances, defeats, to get better and to get lessons. Also sometimes you are conscious that you are not where you want to be and that you have to work really hard. When I say really hard work, that is the base, but you need a good plan and strategy to get there. I think we are going in the right direction but there is much more to come.”
Brian Houten & another, Fleetwood | Good afternoon, Erik and thanks for the opportunity. You’ve been here five months now and you’ve got the enforced break for the crazy Qatar World Cup coming up, can you sum up what it feels like to be Manchester United manager? Has it lived up to your expectations in your first few months here?
“It is a challenge, and I like challenges. When you walk around Carrington, you smell football. When you are with Manchester United, no matter where you are in the world – mundial – there is always a lot of attention. You know you are here at one of the biggest clubs in the world and we want to be the biggest. That is a great challenge and I like it. It gives me energy and I want to give everything in my power to get us back where we belong and that is on the top of the world.”
Steve Baxter, Atlanta | The turnaround this season is obvious and congratulations for that. With respect to your management style and philosophy, is there anything in particular you would say has contributed to that turnaround?
“For what I contributed? Me personally? I have a feeling that we are in the right direction and I’m quite impatient. I want to be straight and to win all the games and be on top of the league, but I know that is not a reality. The process takes time, but when we are not there – where we should have been – then something is wrong. In my leadership, I have to set the standards. I think every day I live the highest standards and that is what I also demand from the people around me. I think that’s the only way to get back there, where we have to be.”
Kallum Nolan & Daniel Moore, Middleton | Nice to meet you, Erik. Can I start by thanking you for instilling a proper fighting spirit back in our club? I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we really appreciate the work that you’ve done over the past four or five months. With the World Cup coming up, how do you expect to manage the players that aren’t actually going to the World Cup? Will any of them get a break and what do you expect to get out of the friendlies in Spain that are coming up next month?
“First of all, I want to emphasise, if you are talking about the spirit: one thing that I notice here, when you see the history, Manchester United in their history won a lot of trophies, a lot of titles. It was always by team spirit and fighting spirit. Manchester United also had fabulous offensive players, who I know were really the most creative and really recognisable players who fans could identify with. After all, it’s the team spirit and the team fighting that was the base that is in the culture of Manchester United. That is one of the things I wanted to bring back and I think we are going in the right direction. Sometimes you have a setback like Sunday and we are definitely not happy with the performance. I feel responsible. When I see my team on Sunday, that is not Manchester United. I know they are not robots but still we have to demand it, that they bring it every game on the pitch, as often as possible. That has to be really often, it has to be. When we now go into the World Cup, to your question, we have a lot of players that are going to the World Cup and we are happy with that, as it means we have top-class players. They go in for their nations, in different styles and different systems. They will play their games and hopefully most will be on the pitch as that guarantees they will keep fit. When you are not playing, I am a little bit concerned about them. For the ones that stay behind – and there are not a lot – it gives us the opportunity, first of all, to reflect on the last period and to make new plans, not only on how we are going in the right direction but how we can improve. It can also give us the opportunity… we talk about young players, we will bring them in so that they can present themselves to us. They get an opportunity, together with the ones that stay behind. We have some important players for us, for next year. They have to contribute to the success of us. So it’s a combination of keeping the seniors who have to contribute for us, they have to keep fit. They need games, they need training. We have a proper programme for them and they have a short time for relaxation, because after we return, around Christmas, we will go through to the end of May. So they will have a short period of relaxation off but then we will go to a training camp to Cadiz, we will play games, we will come back and play another game - hopefully we win tomorrow and have that next round of the Carabao Cup and then we have to be ready for the season to restart. It depends on how the players come back – and we have a plan for them – it depends on how far they come in the World Cup, when they return into training. That’s the idea.”
Amogh Gokhale, Mumbai | So my question is in two parts: What is your goal for the rest of the season? What does a successful first season look like to you?
“First, we have to win all the games. For now, it’s to get into a position that we can win trophies at the end of the season. That means that when we are coming to the middle of March, to April, we have to be in a position where we can win. Until that moment, it is about winning games but also about developing the team, their game and the way the team play. That is the goal.”
And what does a successful first season look like?
“It can be a lot and it’s difficult to say. Of course, when I say I want to win all the games, then you are champion – it’s clear [laughs]. But we are playing in a lot of cups and I want to win trophies. We want to qualify in the top four. That has to be the aim, to get there. It’s going to be hard this season, because from what I’ve heard around me this is maybe the strongest Premier League in years. There is a lot of competition between the bottom and the top, it’s really close together but in the top I think you have seven or eight teams who have all invested a lot. It’s not one or two teams who have invested a lot, it’s not only us but also clubs like Newcastle. They have invested really a lot. West Ham United, also massive investments. Also many more clubs who have invested but we want to be in the top four, it’s clear.”
Arjun Menon & Arjun Balachandran, Kerala | Do you have a vision for how the squad should look two years down the road? And do you think it is important to look towards the club and the Academy along with a strong strategy in the transfer market?
“Yeah, yeah. I believe in that last [point]. It’s two sides: good scouting and being successful in the transfer market but also good youth philosophy that brings up players. When we are two years further [on], I hope that we have developed a way of play. It has to be a proactive way, proactive football and that we are dominating and dictating games against all our competitors, so at the highest level. That is a really good challenge, so when you get that style into the squad, also we’ll see that players will develop to higher levels. The improvement not only has to come from being successful in the transfer market. That is definitely a part of it, but also it has to come from improvement that we get by coaching. That’s it, by managing, by coaching, by training.”
Rick Clement & PA, MUDSA | How are you finding living in Manchester? What do you like most about the city? And how do you relax away from the games?
“I can never go into the city, because they don’t give me rest! [laughs] Always the media they take photos and they don’t give me the opportunity to be there! I’m only at Carrington training ground… no, I need also my time to get back but most of the time I live here, from morning until the night. On my day off, I like the nature around Manchester a lot. I like to bike, I like to jog, I like to just have a walk. I like the culture around Manchester, with the pubs et cetera. I like to play golf, so I have many other things to get back from football, but most of the time I spend on football and how to develop Manchester United, how to develop my team and how to develop my players.”
Ben Bryans & Andy Noble, Leicestershire | How have you found the United fans home and away in your first five months in charge?
“Magnificent. The atmosphere that we see at the moment in Old Trafford is magnificent. The vibe: I think you feel it and I think it has strengthened the squad and makes the opponent fearful at how difficult it is to get points. I think we have to build that and construct that further: that process and togetherness between fans and players, the team. I think that’s a weapon. Away there are always so many fans who support us and you see the connection that there is between the team and the players. I think the best example was at Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge after our equaliser. How we celebrated together: the players with the fans, I think there was really togetherness there. Thirdly, when we go on tour all over the world, there’s always attention. There’s always support and that’s great to experience.”