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Erik ten Hag may have found his sunshine kids at Manchester United



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When Manchester United fans think of Rafael and Fabio da Silva, their hearts warm with memories of the infectious joy they showered the club with for many years.

Manchester United’s Brazilian twins, who joined together from Fluminense, were wonderfully talented full backs but it was through their character that their greatest impact was made over the years at Old Trafford.

Two players adored by all involved with Manchester United, they were not always starters but they were certainly valued by Sir Alex Ferguson and played an important role in many big games under him.

Read More: Gordon Strachan says Alejandro Garnacho has unique attribute the “whole squad needs”

Manchester United and South Americans have generally just always had a thing for each other. Despite the significant climatic differences between large parts of the continent and the North of England, something has always clicked between them.

Brazil and Argentina may be rivals, but Erik ten Hag has a pair of Argentines who are of incredible significance to him, especially going into what could well be make-or-break weeks for his Manchester United career.

Alejandro Garnacho didn’t have the easiest start to life under Erik ten Hag. He travelled to Australia for United’s pre-season tour with an incredible amount of hype surrounding him, but after being late to a couple of team meetings, he was punished by not seeing a single minute of football on the tour.

In his early months under Ten Hag, his game time was fairly limited, and he was publicly criticised on occasion by both Ten Hag and Bruno Fernandes. Some would crumble, but it is a testament to Garnacho’s mentality that he only took it as motivation to work harder and do better.

It’s fair to say he’s been doing better since those early months.

The last time Garnacho didn’t start a game for Manchester United was the Manchester Derby at the end of October. The 26 games since then have all seen Garnacho in the XI, and he has played under 70 minutes in just two of them.

Sometimes it is easy to forget just how young some players are when they are fixtures in top-level sides. The 19-year-old has established himself as one of Ten Hag’s most trusted lieutenants despite his age, and Ten Hag’s faith is being repaid.

He has contributed 10 goals and counting for United this season, and throughout this run of games, he has never stopped giving his absolute all for the team. He has been used in a multitude of different ways, but his mentality is constant, and that is a big part of why he has become so difficult for Erik ten Hag to drop.

One of Garnacho’s compatriots is perhaps Ten Hag’s most undroppable player, but the Dutchman has unfortunately had limited access to him this season.

Lisandro Martínez won the hearts of Manchester United fans almost immediately upon joining the club. It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog, and despite being far shorter than your average centre-back, you’d struggle to find ones with more dawg than Licha – word to Rocky.

Fans, more than anything, want to see players who care, and that’s Licha to a tee. His ability with the ball consistently still awes United fans, but the fact that he cares as much as he does means that even in the bad games—which happen to every player—he won’t lose the support of the fanbase.

That ball-playing ability is a big part of what makes him so valuable to Ten Hag though. Arguably United’s most technically secure player, Martínez is the leader of United’s first two possession phases. He is incredibly authoritative with the ball, and when United have possession, he creates and exploits space – through his movement as well as his dribbling and passing – exactly how Ten Hag instructs his players to.

His aggressive nature out of possession is a key part of Erik ten Hag’s pressing objectives, and again, he understands the instructions of the Dutchman, having worked with him at Ajax before United. His presence on the pitch makes United look like a much better team in pretty much every way you can think of.

The next couple of months are very big for United. With Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa missing key players and seeing harder run-ins than United, the top four is still a possibility. The Red Devils also have a favourable FA Cup semi-final draw against Coventry. These months are not only season-defining for United but very possibly job-defining for Ten Hag.

With Garnacho growing and Licha returning, Ten Hag isn’t alone, though. He may well have found his sunshine kids at Manchester United, and should things go to plan they could well lay the foundations for United’s next great dynasty as they head into their first summer under the INEOS regime.