Ten Hag's just getting started! Man Utd's return to the top is inevitable after Carabao Cup triumph

Erik ten Hag Manchester United Carabao Cup HIC 16:9Getty

“It is about glory and honour, and if you want to prove something and win something, you have to do it because no one is bringing something to you in top football,” Erik ten Hag said after Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle in the 2022-23 Carabao Cup final.

“You have to win the first [trophy] and that is what we did today. You can take inspiration from this, but also more confidence.

"We are still at the start [of the process] to restore Man United to where they belong. We showed the right spirit – we fought and gave everything, as a team.

"It wasn’t always the best football but it was effective. There is a hunger and desire for trophies.”

The Dutchman was the coolest man at Wembley on Sunday, and he won’t be getting carried away with a final result that leaves supporters dreaming of an unprecedented quadruple.

United are still in with an outside chance of winning the Premier League title, and they are among the favourites to go all the way in both the FA Cup and Europa League.

But this season should already be judged as a major success, regardless of whether they land any additional silverware.

Ten Hag picked up the pieces after United’s worst-ever domestic campaign, and the size of the task was made all the more daunting after he opened his reign with shocking losses against Brighton and Brentford.

His reaction to the latter 4-0 reversal in west London was crucial, as he cancelled a planned day off for his squad and called the players in for a gruelling 13.8 kilometre run. They haven’t dared to allow their standards to slip so low again.

Gradual progress was made in the first half of the season, but Ten Hag’s project really got into full swing after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

He refused to bow to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s will, and after public fallouts and that Piers Morgan interview, his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

United have won 16 of their 20 games in all competitions since Ronaldo’s exit, losing just once.
Ten Hag’s handling of an underperforming Jadon Sancho and club captain Harry Maguire has also been exemplary.

Sancho has returned from a self-inflicted exile with renewed purpose, while Maguire has accepted an important squad role after the emergence of a rock-solid new defensive partnership in the form of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez.

Ten Hag has also reconnected with a fanbase that had been starved of success for the best part of a decade.

He’s done what David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick all failed to do – moulding a team with a clear identity while sticking to the core values that served as the foundation for Sir Alex Ferguson’s glorious 26-year reign.

To put it simply, Ten Hag just gets it.

He added after the League Cup final: "I just love United. When I see already our shirts, when I see the bond with the fans, when I see Old Trafford, when I see the legacy Sir Alex left, so many players, big players were developed in the United teams, it makes a big impression and we want to do the same.”

Bruno Fernandes is one of those that looks destined to make his mark in the history books at Old Trafford.

“It has been an amazing period, first trophy of the season but we want more, it is not enough for this club, we want more and we need more because our standards demands more,” he said to Sky Sports amid the celebrations at Wembley.

“For me, it was about winning trophies and finally we did it. I am satisfied but I want more.”

The Portuguese is a born winner, and he’s now surrounded by team-mates that share the same mindset. Summer signings Casemiro, Martinez and Antony will all do whatever it takes to emerge victorious.

Under Ten Hag, United play as a unit. Player power is no longer an issue, with Ronaldo and other divisive figures such as Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard cut loose for the betterment of dressing room harmony.

Others have been given a second chance to prove themselves, including Marcus Rashford.
The Englishman could quite easily have joined the list of departures after a disastrous individual 2021-22 campaign, but he has completely brought into Ten Hag’s vision and worked tirelessly to unlock his full potential.

Rashford is now one of the most lethal forwards in Europe, with 25 goals to his name from 38 appearances this term.

Fred has enjoyed a similar resurgence in midfield, and Luke Shaw has taken his game to new heights thanks to extra competition at left-back from promising young Netherlands star Tyrell Malacia.

Even David de Gea, who broke Peter Schmeichel’s all-time United clean sheets record after his shut-out against Newcastle, is showing the kind of form between the sticks that saw him revered among the best goalkeepers in the business at the height of his Old Trafford career.

"It's about one man that has transformed a team from whiners into winners – what a job Erik ten Hag has done,” United legend GaryNeville said after covering the final for Sky Sports.

"Players are out there that shouldn't have played for Manchester United again but they are performing at a high level. They have a spirit and a fight. There is a real chance of winning trophies beyond this.”

United will only get better from here. Everything is in place for their long-awaited return to the elite stage, with Champions League qualification now all but secured.

With two or three additions in the summer transfer window, United will have all the tools to compete for Europe’s biggest prize, and make a definitive play for the top spot in the Premier League ahead of noisy neighbours Manchester City and Arsenal.

The dark days are over for the United faithful. Ten Hag has brought Old Trafford back into the sun, and he will stop at nothing to make sure the club’s forward trajectory continues.

It promises to be one hell of a ride.

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