Cristiano Ronaldo is missing from Manchester United's Melbourne leg of their pre-season tour having skipped Bangkok amid speculation over his Old Trafford future; Marcus Rashford has hailed the early impact of Erik ten Hag
Friday 15 July 2022 15:07, UK
Erik ten Hag has refused to comment further on Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United future as the club's pre-season tour arrived in Melbourne.
Having skipped the Bangkok leg of the summer camp, Ronaldo remains absent from the travelling party amid speculation of a transfer away from Old Trafford.
The 37-year-old wants to leave United as he looks for Champions League football, but Ten Hag was not in the mood to add further fuel to the fire during a press conference upon arrival in Australia.
"We made a statement and nothing has changed," the Dutchman said ahead of Friday's friendly match against A-League outfit Melbourne Victory at the MCG.
United maintain that Ronaldo is not for sale but it remains unclear whether he will join the rest of the United squad on their three-game Australian leg of the tour.
United will be playing Europa League football during the forthcoming season - something Ronaldo has never done during his illustrious playing career - and United say that he is absent due to personal reasons.
Ten Hag said in Bangkok: "We are planning for Cristiano Ronaldo for the season and that's it. I'm looking forward to working with him. Cristiano is not for sale. He is in our plans and we want success together.
"He's not with us and it's due to personal issues. I spoke with him before this issue came up. I had a conversation with him and I had a good talk. That is between Cristiano and me.
"What I can confirm is we had a really good conversation together. I didn't speak to him after (the news)."
United didn't appear to miss Ronaldo during their impressive 4-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday in which Anthony Martial was on the scoresheet following his return from an unsuccessful loan spell during the second half of last season at Sevilla.
Ten Hag is focusing on the players currently at his disposal as he looks to improve on the side's fortunes after finishing sixth in the Premier League last season - 35 points adrift of champions Manchester City without a positive goal difference and following a sixth straight away defeat at Crystal Palace.
Indeed, their tally of 58 points was the fewest United have collected since the Premier League began in 1992, but Ten Hag believes the current squad is capable of a far higher ceiling.
"I think Manchester United has a huge potential, and really good players," he added.
"We have experienced players, but also a lot of young guys, young boys, who have a lot of potential. Now it's to get the potential out and therefore we have to work really hard.
"Man Utd is famous for it. Marcus Rashford is one, eh? It's a symbol of the academy of Manchester United and there will be more talents coming after."
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted United's style of play under Ten Hag paid instant dividends during the 4-0 defeat in Bangkok earlier this week, and forward Marcus Rashford has claimed the Dutchman's intense training sessions are already having an impact.
Rashford was one of many United players to endure an underwhelming 2021/22 season, but the England international is ready to turn over a new leaf under Ten Hag.
"For me it is a fresh start, something I am looking forward to," Rashford said.
"The first two and a half weeks of training has been good. We have improved a lot and we're a lot fitter than last season.
"We have a lot of room for improvement. I'm in a good place right now. I am looking forward to getting more games under my belt and getting ready for the season.
"It is a lot easier to make mistakes in a team that is winning.
"Individually it is the same thing. It is a lot easier to come back and improve when you make mistakes in a winning team. When you are losing it is difficult.
"It has not been natural to have a long break, just under four weeks, long break physical and mentally.
"It is an opportunity to refresh. I am ready to go again.
"This is my first year I have been with the team since the beginning [of pre-season].
"I feel a lot better than usual, when I go away with the national team and come back part-way through preseason. It is important to get a fresh start. I feel fresh and ready."
United are in talks to sign Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez as Ten Hag continues to drill the side in his proactive, pressing football on the other side of the world.
Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Nemanja Matic are among those to have left since Ten Hag's arrival but Feyenoord left-back Tyrell Malacia is the only new face on the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia.
Further acquisitions could soon follow as free agent Christian Eriksen verbally agreed to join a club that has held advanced talks with Ajax about defender Martinez.
The Argentina international is keen on the move to United, with football director John Murtough and chief executive Richard Arnold travelling to Amsterdam to discuss the transfer.
"In every part of the of the team I want proactivity," Ten Hag said. "That's the most important, that players take initiative - on the ball and off the ball, offence and defence.
"I would not say that we played man marking (against Liverpool). At a certain moment we played man marking and we want to press.
"We want to press all day, by that I mean proactive football.
"Sometimes we can we do that high but if (it's) not possible then we have to read it as a team and we drop lower. But, still, we want to press. That has to be the intention all day."
United trained behind closed doors at AAMI Park on Thursday, when Ten Hag and his fellow coaches' instructions could be heard from outside the stadium.
They are playing two friendlies in Melbourne over the coming days, with around 150,000 expected at the MCG across Friday's game against Melbourne Victory and the Tuesday clash with Crystal Palace.
Harry Maguire - confirmed as Ten Hag's captain at the start of the week - is in line to feature in those games having missed the Liverpool win with a knock.
"(Maguire) is available for tomorrow," Ten Hag said. "We will see. I think he can play half a game. It is pre-season but football you play to win. In the end, it's always important winning.
"But of course it is pre-season, we have to develop our team, so that is also a really big target for the game."
The friendly against A-League side Melbourne Victory, who this week signed former United man Nani, looks like a good chance to start young talents and previously peripheral players.
Zidane Iqbal, the 19-year-old academy graduate, impressed off the bench in Thailand, where Donny van de Beek - a star of Ten Hag's Ajax side - wore a United shirt for the first time since January.
Asked if he saw Van de Beek in a deeper or more advanced midfield role, Ten Hag added: "He can do both and I know that from the past.
"But his best position that (shows) his capabilities (is) in the box of the opponent, so playing short behind a striker. He has a really good smell for being in the right position."
United are in Australia ahead of their next pre-season match against Melbourne Victory on Friday.