Manchester United have released a statement on the immediate future of winger Jadon Sancho, after his remarks on social media publicly contradicted manager Erik ten Hag. Sancho complained online about being a “scapegoat” in the wake of United’s defeat against Arsenal, after his manager claimed the player hadn’t featured in the game due to poor training performance.
Yesterday afternoon, United released the following through their official channels: “Jadon Sancho will remain on a personal training programme away from the first-team group, pending resolution of a squad discipline issue.”
The statement was surprisingly brief but a lot can be gleaned from it nonetheless. The first element to take away is that there is no immediate way back for the player. Despite Antony’s absence while an investigation takes place into alleged incidents of abuse, the club are not bowing to on-pitch needs. While they are shorthanded on the wings, they will still not countenance a public display of ill-discipline.
This should not be surprising by now. Ten Hag was willing to go up against Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the most famous footballer in the world, when he was publicly insolent on an edition of Piers Morgan Uncensored. In the shadow of ‘CR7’ suffering for his comments and being let go, Sancho never stood a chance. Previous United managers have been accused of attempting to garner respect by behaving like ‘one of the boys’. Ten Hag has drawn a clear line in the sand when it comes to his authority.
Sancho’s social media outburst was a direct assault on that authority. It was not a general mope about his place down the hierarchy at Old Trafford. It was a clear accusation that his manager had lied about him. We will never know the true nature of Sancho and Ten Hag’s interactions behind the scenes, but in public the manager and the club felt they had to take a stand.
It is easy to see why. One player being allowed to get away with actions that threaten to embarrass Manchester United will lead to others feeling they can follow. Only 11 players can start a game of football while a further nine make up a Premier League bench. Given a domestic squad is made up of 25 players with further allowances for designated young players, every matchday is going to lead to someone being left out. Allowing Sancho’s gripes to go unpunished would have given carte blanche to every dropped player to come after the manager for their exclusion.
Sancho training on his own is nothing new. Ten Hag had previously sent the England winger to the Netherlands on a specialised training programme to improve his fitness. It does at least back up the fact that Ten Hag’s concerns over Sancho’s readiness are long-standing. But Sancho’s return to a one-man show in training was not actually United’s intended solution to these recent issues.
The club was close to agreeing a move for Sancho to join Al-Ettifaq on Saudi Arabia’s deadline day. Reportedly, the transfer fell apart because the club, managed by ex-Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard, wanted a loan deal while the Red Devils were keen on at least an obligation to buy if not an outright permanent deal. The Sancho came close to leaving for the Saudi Pro League makes clear that yesterday’s statement was not the intended outcome.
Perhaps the player will find his way back. Others have walked a similar path and done so. Carlos Tevez, an ex-Red himself, once refused to come on as a substitute while playing for Manchester City. After an initial ban he was reinstalled into the team. Cohesion is possible if United try. But they might decide this public outburst represents a point of no return. The fact that even the absence of Antony hasn’t led to a softening of approach doesn’t bode well.
What has become clear over the past year is that Ten Hag’s authority is total. United finally have a manager they feel comfortable backing to the hilt on any and all club issues. While the online mockery and dubbing of the club as ‘Statement FC’ for their high count of public addresses this season continues, at the heart of it is a manager who is unshakeably following his vision. That might not be good news for Sancho or anyone else who steps out of line.