Manchester United’s turnaround this season has been fascinating to watch, with Erik ten Hag’s tenure at the club getting off to the worst possible start with two embarrassing defeats.
The second defeat, away at Brentford, was almost incriminating for many players and that’s when Ten Hag started to wield his axe.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw were among the players to immediately be dropped and United started to pick up points. Now, roughly five months later, the Reds are five points behind league leaders Arsenal.
Bruno Fernandes has been key to turning United’s fortunes around, with Ten Hag opting for the Portuguese international as his vice-captain. He may become the permanent captain later this year if Maguire leaves.
Speaking ahead of the mouthwatering clash with Barcelona on Thursday night, Fernandes has explained how Ten Hag’s strict style and his high demands set them on their way.
“He [Ten Hag] first arrived and we went on tour and the training sessions we had, he demands: you do it or you’re out,” Ten Hag told BT Sport, via LiveSoccerTV.
“You don’t play. Everyone was a little bit like in the beginning: ‘Will he do that or not? If a big player doesn’t do what he wants will he pull him apart or not?’
“And he did that many times, he did it with Cristiano, with Jadon, with Marcus.”
Ten Hag’s zero-tolerance policy on discrepancies was recently on show when red-hot Marcus Rashford was dropped after being late to a team meeting.
Fernandes has opened up on that game, which Rashford ended up scoring the winner in after being brought on in the second half.
“Marcus was probably in the best form against Wolves, he did something wrong and the manager pulled him out,” he said.
“In the first moment, we thought ‘he’s our main man, we need him’ but in the second I was sitting with David (De Gea) and I said ‘it has to be like this’ because if not that the younger ones will think ‘if he does nothing to them he’ll do nothing to me too’.
“He demanded from Rashy you have to be consistent in everything, not only in your games, in your goals, and your performance but off the pitch also.
“Marcus, in the beginning, was hungry because he wanted to play but he didn’t do anything wrong, he accepted, came on, scored, we win and at the end, him and the coach are laughing. Sometimes you have to make some rules in your house. Otherwise, they will go over you and they will be the owners of the house.”
From the outside, it absolutely looks like most of the players have bought into Ten Hag’s demands and Ronaldo’s controversial departure in November was the perfect example of what happens if a player disagrees.