Manchester United’s struggles this season indicate that Erik ten Hag is grappling with second-season syndrome. If he doesn’t turn things around swiftly, his job might be in jeopardy.
After winning their first trophy in six years by clinching the EFL Cup and finishing third in the Premier League last season, it appeared that United was on an upward trajectory, with Ten Hag being hailed as the true successor to Sir Alex Ferguson.
However, this season has seen just five wins from 11 matches, slowing down their progress. While Ten Hag successfully brought in players like Andre Onana, Mason Mount, and Rasmus Hojlund, he missed out on some of his transfer targets, most notably Harry Kane.
It’s worth noting that missing out on transfer targets is not unique to Ten Hag; even the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson had his share of misses. For instance, Alan Shearer had the opportunity to lead United’s line in the 1990s but opted for Newcastle United.
United also had the chance to sign Frank Lampard before he joined Chelsea. Imagine how formidable Fergie’s midfield could have been with Lampard in the ranks?
Ferguson also failed to secure the services of another future Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba, during a challenging period for United. Drogba chose London over Manchester, and he could have significantly strengthened the United squad at that time.
In the summer of 2004, Jose Mourinho was appointed as Chelsea’s manager, marking the end of United’s era of dominance. United, who had secured only the FA Cup during the 2003/04 season, was keen to strengthen their squad.
Drogba was on their list of potential signings, with Ferguson recalling, “We went to check him out [at Marseille] but the club wanted £25 million and Chelsea moved in for the kill before we had made up our minds.”
Instead, United signed Wayne Rooney later that summer, a move that proved to be highly successful. Nevertheless, signing Drogba would have been a significant coup for the club.
Mourinho, who was a big admirer of Drogba, secured the Ivorian’s services for £24 million, aiming to lead Chelsea to their first league title since 1955. Drogba made an immediate impact, scoring 16 goals during his first season in London, helping Chelsea win the Premier League and starring in the League Cup final.
He continued to excel the following season, contributing to 27 goals as Chelsea retained their title. It seemed that the following years would be dominated by Chelsea, with Mourinho masterminding their success.
Despite winning a League Cup and FA Cup double in 2006/07, a poor start to the next season led to Mourinho’s sacking after a tumultuous relationship with chairman Roman Abramovich. Drogba experienced several managerial changes during his remaining years at the club.
His most remarkable success came in the 2011/12 season.