Please do not ban me, Man Utd, but Erik ten Hag’s flat cap is a big problem

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag before the Premier League match at St James' Park - Please do not ban me, Man Utd, but Erik ten Hag’s flat cap is a big problem
Erik ten Hag’s flat cap has made a reappearance this winter - PA/Owen Humphreys

Dear Manchester United, please do not ban me for what I am about to say: Erik ten Hag looks a bit silly in his new hat. Forget about revolting players, have you seen the state of that flat cap?

The United manager apparently misunderstood the nature of his team’s visit to Newcastle United last Saturday, which was a Premier League fixture not, as Ten Hag had it, a fancy dress party with the theme of “northern”. He watched his team lose from the St James’ Park technical area but looked like he would far rather be at home bingeing Peaky Blinders.

It is the sort of headwear which blights Cheltenham festival and ruins the otherwise happy Señor on your bottle of Madri. David Beckham has a lot to answer for. This is presumably the same cap Ten Hag was wearing for a spell last April, before United’s FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and a league game at Nottingham Forest. Both were wins, so clearly this a lucky hat although it was rested as United recovered with a win against Chelsea on Wednesday night.

Unfortunately this is not the time for Ten Hag to be playing any adventurous sartorial shots. Since Steve McClaren’s cursed umbrella, any manager daring to be different with what they wear or how they accessorise is surrounded and subdued by a pack of angry fans.

Really, and I am castigating my own narrowmindedness here as well, this is a shame. We are enhanced by a variety of clothing choices on the touchline. There have been great flat cap wearers in football’s past, none more so than Jim Smith. Similarly striking although less successful was Frank Burrows, stand-in West Brom manager in 2004, on loan from 1956.

West Brom's caretaker manager Frank Burrows
The flat cap is a lesser spotted item of headgear on Premier League touchlines these days, though West Brom's Frank Burrows was a fan - Action Images/Michael Regan

Tony Pulis’ somehow angry baseball cap was so integral to his look he was wearing it when rendered in Fifa 18, with a suit underneath. And you can’t say “Fedora” and not think “Malcolm Allison,” at least not in certain pubs in the Selhurst area.

West Bromwich Albion's Welsh Head Coach Tony Pulis (C) celebrates at the final whistle in the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park in Birmingham
Tony Pulis loved a baseball cap - Getty Images/Lindsey Parnaby

Now there is almost total flattening of styles on the touchline. Managers dress cagily within one of two main camps. Half go for a look we can call ‘Smart-smart-casual’, with tight trousers, fitted T, expensive knitwear and shoes which cannot decide whether they are for a wedding or a run. The other aesthetic is best described as ‘club-shop trolleydash’.

Newcastle United Head Coach Eddie Howe looks on during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St. James Park on December 02, 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Eddie Howe tends to favour his club's official outerwear on match days - Getty Images/Serena Taylor

Managers seem terrified of doing anything which marks them out as unusual or, worse, having a thought which is not about football. Therefore few take any risks with their clothes. This fits the current state of football as a whole, a sport which has reached its ‘I love Big Brother’ stage, in which ‘Big Brother’ is a tightly coached counter-pressing game plan with inverted full-backs.

Of course there is an exception, and as with much of modern British football it is Pep Guardiola. His success on the pitch means he can wear whatever he likes, although let the record show we took the mickey out of him too two years ago when he wore a jacket featuring a City emblem roughly as large as Rochdale’s Spotland stadium.

Manager of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Leg Two match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 04, 2022 in Madrid, Spain
Pep Guardiola's style is all his own - Getty Images/Michael Regan

‌The question is how might we view Ten Hag’s flat cap if he were winning consistently. Last year things which earned him praise are now being used against him. He was the no-nonsense hardman who had successfully disposed of disruptive Cristiano Ronaldo. Now he is the some-nonsense stubbornman who has recklessly exiled Jadon Sancho. But a few more results like Tuesday’s and he can afford to push the boat out. Lock up your stetsons.

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