Why did Man United ban reporters? Journalists barred from press conference after story of player unrest under Erik ten Hag

There is an increasing feeling that Manchester United’s season is spiralling out of control — and it’s a feeling that’s all-too familiar.

United have lost 10 of 21 games in all competitions this season, most recently a chastening 1-0 loss to Newcastle United in which they barely laid a glove on their injury-hit opponents. Their coming four games — against Chelsea, Bournemouth and Liverpool in the Premier League, and Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League — feel like being decisive ones for manager Erik ten Hag.

Stories about dressing-room disharmony, concerns over playing style and the treatment of certain squad members, combined with poor results and a lack of movement in the ownership saga, make for pretty bleak reading for United fans. It’s all reminiscent of the final weeks in charge of the previous two permanent managers, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho, who were both sacked towards the end of the calendar year in 2019 and 2021.

However, United have this time taken a slightly different route towards creating a sunnier outlook for their supporters. On December 4, 2023, two days before their league match with Chelsea, it was reported that the club had banned four media outlets from attending Ten Hag’s pre-game press conference because of a story published that day.

The Sporting News looks at what happened.

MORE: Latest odds on Erik ten Hag to leave Manchester United

Why did Man United ban reporters?

On December 5, the Manchester Evening News’ Samuel Luckhurst posted on X (formerly Twitter) that his organisation had been barred from attending Man United’s pre-game media conference before their Premier League match with Chelsea.

The MEN said it and three other outlets had been blocked from attending Ten Hag’s press briefing by the club’s communications director, Andrew Ward. According to the MEN, the decision was made because of a story published that day regarding dressing-room disharmony under the manager.

The MEN, which is a regional news outlet in Manchester that reports extensively on United and Manchester City, wrote that Ten Hag was losing the support of some of his squad due to his tactics and some of the signings he has pushed for while in the job.

A similar story appeared on Sky Sports, in which it was claimed that Ten Hag had lost “50 per cent” of the dressing room. The report said some senior players were concerned by the direction of the club, felt Ten Hag was being too rigid in his methods — including overworking players physically in training — and that his treatment of Jadon Sancho had gone too far. Sancho has not been considered for the first team and has been ordered to train with the Under-21s since September, when he publicly accused his manager of lying about why he had not been included in the matchday squad to face Arsenal.

Similar coverage also appeared in ESPN and The Mirror, which is part of the same umbrella organisation as the MEN. It was the reporters from those three outlets, plus Sky Sports, who were barred.

Through a spokesperson, United said: “[We have] taken action against several media organisations, not for publishing stories we don’t like, but for doing so without first contacting us to give us the opportunity to comment, challenge or contextualise.”

What has Erik ten Hag said?

Ten Hag’s press conference went ahead on December 5 to preview the Chelsea match. In it, the Dutch coach insisted that stories of unrest within his squad were not true.

“We are on a journey. We know we are in transition but we are in the right direction,” he said.

“We construct a team, develop it, the team is progressing, young players are coming in and you see the potential of how they can contribute to a successful Manchester United team for the future.

“We had a week or two of good performances and one bad performance. The team is in a good direction. We played very good football, scored very good goals against Galatasaray and Everton.

“Against Newcastle, we didn’t play great. We’re not happy with that performance but we stayed in the game and had two good opportunities to get a point. With a little bit more determination, we could have taken something.”

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Ten Hag replied “Yes, I am sure” when pressed on whether he thinks he has the backing of his players, and continued: “You can see for instance the comeback against Brentford, the Burnley game, the Fulham game.

“Every time the team is there, showed great character, great determination, resilience, so we are together. You can’t play such great football as we did recently without unity.

“Of course there are always in every team players who are not playing who are not as happy. You have to wait for the chance and that can come, but there are no issues.

“I listen always to my players and I give them always opportunities. If the players have a different opinion, of course I will listen.

“We are really improving. We can’t make the goal we did against Everton if the players don’t embrace it.”

Has this happened before at Man United?

Earlier in 2023/24, a journalist was reportedly barred from a press conference for claiming in a story that Ten Hag was “on thin ice” at Man United. Former manager Sir Alex Ferguson also had an infamous, long-running dispute with the BBC that meant he spent the best part of seven years boycotting the organisation. They settled their differences in 2011.

It is largely uncommon for reporters to be given bans in this way, though. Managers will sometimes take exception to particular lines of questioning or perceived ‘negative’ coverage, which happened in February this year in the Premier League, when Jurgen Klopp refused to answer a question asked by The Athletic’s James Pearce following a 3-0 loss to Wolves.

“It’s very difficult to talk to you if I’m 100 percent honest. I would prefer not to do that,” Klopp said.

“You know why — for all the things you wrote. So If somebody else wanted to ask that question then I’ll answer it.”

Pearce later explained that Klopp had taken exception to an article in which some members of his staff were criticised. The two have since cleared the air.

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