Erik ten Hag has strongly suggested that Manchester United are getting closer to the team he wants them to become without Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, 37, quit Old Trafford in November following an infamous interview with Piers Morgan in which he slammed Ten Hag, former team-mates and United's owners, the Glazer family. But trouble had been brewing for months prior, with the Portuguese superstar, then in his second spell with the Red Devils, desperate to leave the club last summer before ultimately being denied a move away.
After Ronaldo burned his bridges during the aforementioned unsanctioned interview, Ten Hag and the Old Trafford hierarchy felt that United would be better off by axing him altogether. Since then, the Red Devils have ended their six-year trophy drought, enjoyed an impressive second half of the season and qualified for the Champions League, vindicating Ronaldo's exit.
When speaking to the Times recently, Ten Hag was asked whether United were now in a better position to become his ideal club without the five-time Ballon d'Or winners' presence disrupting his plans. "If you're observing that, it's up to you," the Dutchman coyly replied.
"So what I want to see from my team is a team who are proactive, dynamic, determined. I've seen many times Manchester United with that attitude, so that's what I like. It's not that we are satisfied. There's still a long way to go but we're definitely showing this mentality."
Indeed there is a long way to go, with this season not even over yet. The Red Devils bow out at Wembley next Saturday, facing bitter rivals Manchester City in a mouth-watering FA Cup final. Victory would not only end City's chances of winning the treble, but also make it two trophies in Ten Hag's debut campaign at United.
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During the club's awards evening on Monday, the ex-Ajax boss declared: "It's not about stopping Manchester City, it's about us winning the FA Cup. We want to build our own legacy and era."
That echoed his post-match address to the Old Trafford crowd after the Red Devils ended their Premier League campaign with a 2-1 win against Fulham on Sunday, securing third place. "There is still one game to go," Ten Hag noted. "I am sure that these players will give everything to beat Manchester City next week. We count on you as well. With you on our back I am sure we have a really good chance to take the cup back to Old Trafford."
As for how Ronaldo has fared since leaving Old Trafford for the second time in his prestigious career, the ageing forward missed out on the Saudi Arabian title with new club Al-Nassr. Despite scoring an impressive 14 goals in 16 games, his side fell away in the title race and allowed Al-Ittihad to reign supreme.