Under-fire Erik ten Hag is convinced he retains the backing of Manchester United’s players after the club were angered by reports he had lost some of the dressing room.
The Dutchman’s challenging second campaign in charge continued on Saturday night, when a lifeless display saw the Red Devils fall to a meek 1-0 defeat at Newcastle.
A 10th defeat of the season led to some reports that Ten Hag had lost the confidence of up to half of his players, with concerns over his style, tactics and signings mentioned.
Those reports led to the club banning four media outlets shortly before Tuesday’s press conference nominally set up to preview the midweek Premier League clash against Chelsea.
The boss continues: "[We have] showed great character, great determination and resilience.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 5, 2023
United said the action was taken for not “contacting us first to give us the opportunity to comment, challenge or contextualise”, adding they believed it was “an important principle to defend”.
Asked if he believed he still had the requisite buy-in from his players to be successful, Ten Hag said: “Oh yes, I’m sure.
“But you can see, for instance, the comeback against Brentford, the Burnley game, the Fulham game, so every time the team is there, showed great character.
“Great determination, resilient, so yeah, we are together.
“And you can see you can’t play such great football what we did lately if there is no unity.”
Ten Hag downplayed Newcastle as “one bad performance” after the 3-0 league win at Everton and the 3-3 Champions League draw at Galatasaray, and addressed the bans handed out to journalists.
“They should come to us first and not go around our back printing articles,” the United manager said. “That’s not the right thing.
“I think we have another relationship, and then they should give that to us beforehand. We have a normal and professional discussion and debate about it.”
Pushed on whether he was concerned there was truth behind reports of player unhappiness, the United manager said: “No.
“Of course there are always in every team players who are less playing, who are less happy, but not different as normal.
“You have to wait for their chance and that can come, but, no, there are no issues.”
There were no questions in the press conference about Wednesday’s match against Chelsea, who are managed by Mauricio Pochettino – the man considered Ten Hag’s main rival for the Old Trafford post in 2022.
The former Ajax boss quickly oversaw improvements on and off the pitch at United, but this season there has been criticism about the manager’s approach.
“I listen always to my players,” the Dutchman said. “And I give them always the opportunities to tell (me). If the players have a different opinion, of course I will listen.
“But they haven’t told me, or maybe one or two (have), but it’s about in general, so the majority, they want to play like this – proactive, dynamic, brave. That is what they want.
“You can see the players are behind it because of the performances against Everton, Galatasaray, and we are really improving.
“Do you think that you can make a goal like we did against Everton if the players didn’t embrace it? What do you think?”
But there were few signs of that progress at St James’ Park, leading Ten Hag to say that playing three big away games in six days hurt a group that are “not robots”.
The United boss certainly came out fighting ahead facing Chelsea and dismissed suggestions that the banning of reporters suggested disorder around the club.
“But not in the dressing room,” Ten Hag said. “Of course, there are a lot of rumours about strategic review but it’s not that we get distracted from it.
“We are on a journey, on the route. We know we are still in transition, but we are in the right direction, and you see it.
“Like how we construct a team, how we develop the team, how the team is progressing, how young players coming in, you see the potential how they can contribute to a very successful Manchester United for the future.”