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Former Man Utd star, 32, now looking to make his own way as a manager

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NO ONE can accuse Sir Jim Ratcliffe of not being true to his word — he has insisted from the start it was a three-year plan, writes Phil Thomas.

But maybe he should have said that wasn’t the timescale on turning Manchester United into title challengers once again.

Clearly United’s would-be saviour was talking of how long it would take to decide who he wanted as manager.

It has seemed that way at least, in a week when an against-all-odds FA Cup final win over neighbours City has barely had a mention alongside the debate over Erik ten Hag’s future.

To the point that if — as appears increasingly likely — he gets a vote of confidence instead of a P45, Sir Jim will have made it look the exact opposite.

You have to hand it to United and their new investor — when it comes to finding a cloud in every silver lining, they’re in a league of their own.
Eight days have passed since Bruno Fernandes lifted the world’s most famous domestic knockout trophy.

Eight days since Ten Hag finally gave a bit back to all those who have passed judgment on the job he’s done and whether he should keep it.

Eight days since he gave Sir Jim a metaphoric dig in the ribs to make  a decision, by insisting he would happily go and win cups elsewhere if he wasn’t wanted.

And eight days since Ratcliffe did not even have the decency to mention by name the man who had just won United’s first FA Cup in eight years, as he name-checked so many others.

No wonder there has been a definite, if not decisive, mood shift among fans since last week’s triumph.

Not necessarily a flood of support for Ten Hag, mind. The memory of beating City will live long but so, too, will a seven-goal hiding at Anfield, six at the Etihad, four at Palace.

A frustration at squandered leads, a season of 19 defeats, an eighth-placed finish with a negative goal difference. Wembley alone can’t erase all that.

It’s not so much a show of faith in the manager, more a shrinking one in Sir Jim and his tub-thumping vows of a Red resurrection.

Bold promises that no longer would United be a laughing stock chucking money around like a drunken lottery winner. They would unearth their own stars instead.

Old Trafford would once again become a cathedral of excitement and entertainment. They would demand it of the manager, whoever it was.

Immediately after the FA Cup win, you’d have got a big price on that being Ten Hag — so the fact he is now odds-on to still be in charge at the start of next season proves what a fiasco it has been.

Ratcliffe may be a dab hand at getting office desks tidied and youth- team dressing rooms swept but it’s a different story when it comes to the biggest calls.

It is an open secret Sir Jim and his team have been eyeing potential new gaffers for months and you’d imagine there would be no shortage of takers or candidates.

Graham Potter was an early front-runner but Sir Dave Brailsford and Co weren’t convinced he was a sexy — or big — enough name.

Then it was Gareth Southgate but managing England’s Euro assault was always going to make that tricky — and there are also whispers he is now distancing himself from it.

Next cab off the rank was Thomas Tuchel but despite a dip-your-toe- in-the-water inquiry, the German was a long shot from the off.

Too volatile, too dear and too difficult to manage. No way would he meekly accept anyone telling him how his team must play. Even United’s kingmakers realised that.

So the search moved on to Kieran McKenna, a former United coach and assistant manager who knew the club better than those doing  the interviewing.

An eternal Ipswich hero after leading them from League One to the top tier in two years. But compared to one of the elite jobs in world football? It was a no-brainer.

Only it wasn’t . . . the contract that the Northern Irishman chose was an extension at Portman Road rather than a new one at Old Trafford.

Of the others to get a mention, only Mauricio Pochettino remains — but if Ratcliffe and the crew fancy him, why are they dragging their heels over appointing a free agent?

It has been a farce from the start, with tales of United even picking the brains of other clubs. That really would be a sign of desperation.

You couldn’t blame Ten Hag if he raised two fingers to Sir Jim and told him where to stick it. It’s been obvious for months that he wasn’t wanted.

And equally clear that if he remains as manager, it will effectively be by default. So should that happen, don’t insult everyone with any statements of support. Don’t give us any bull about keeping quiet to avoid disrupting the Wembley build-up. It was your silence that brought chaos, when one sentence would have meant calm.

Any public backing now would be as believable as the fast-fading idea that United were getting a saviour on a white charger when Sir Jim rode into town.

A man returning to his Northern roots intent on rebuilding an empire — yet showing more interest in the bottom of a balance sheet than  the top of the table.

Mike Ashley with a Failsworth accent, you could say — and at least the former Newcastle owner didn’t try to disguise it.

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