IAN LADYMAN: If you come for Marcus Rashford then you had better be sure and you had better not miss – and Erik ten Hag didn’t

Sir Alex Ferguson was a hard man when it came to discipline, but that doesn’t mean he was always fair. No, the great manager of Manchester United was not always fair.

Take Ryan Giggs and David Beckham for example. They were far from wild as they developed into senior players. They had their moments, but didn’t often give Ferguson reason to worry or wonder.

Yet they would get it from their manager and often in the eyes of everyone else.

“He used to pick me and Becks out for a blowout,” Giggs told me five years ago.

‘We always got it more often than the rest. One pre-season in America he went for me before everyone else. I was furious, but he told me it was a prank because the younger players would learn that if he could try me, no one was safe. He knew what he was doing.’

Sir Alex Ferguson has often criticized stars such as Ryan Giggs for setting a dressing room standard

Sir Alex Ferguson has often criticized stars such as Ryan Giggs for setting a dressing room standard

Erik ten Hag aims to instill a level of discipline and personal responsibility at Man United

Erik ten Hag aims to instill a level of discipline and personal responsibility at Man United

Mail Sport's Ian Ladyman believes Ten Hag was right in his handling of Marcus Rashford

Mail Sport’s Ian Ladyman believes Ten Hag was right in his handling of Marcus Rashford

Football has changed a lot even since Ferguson submitted it nearly eleven years ago, but some things remain the same and the need for discipline and personal responsibility is one of them.

If a manager allows players to lose sight of the line that should never be crossed, he is in trouble. If a manager wants the control he needs, a group of footballers must bend to this whim, rather than the other way around.

Fair, reasonable or otherwise, it’s about power and who holds it. At the modern United, Erik ten Hag clings on. It’s results that undermined him in his second season at the club. If new United part-owner Jim Ratcliffe decides to move him on at the end of the season, it will be the manager.

United are three unbeaten. Newport, Wolves, West Ham. Not the biggest of beaten names, admittedly, and Sunday at Aston Villa may tell us more about whether Ten Hag’s side will actually turn a corner this time around or simply continue to travel in circles.

Before those three wins, however, was a triumph of significance, a triumph of discipline and control with Marcus Rashford at the center of it.

Speaking on the ‘Stick to Football’ podcast recently, former United captain Roy Keane said Rashford is an ‘easy target’ for criticism when the opposite is actually true. Rashford is not an easy target, whether you are a supporter, a journalist or indeed his manager.

Because of Rashford’s stature at Old Trafford and because he is a youth academy product and because of the work he has done on behalf of school children during the pandemic, Rashford is actually quite a difficult person to single out for criticism. There will always be pushback, always those ready to accuse you of ulterior motives. In other words, if you’re coming for Rashford, be sure and you better not miss.

Ten Hag was sure and didn’t miss either. He became aware of Rashford’s drinking sessions in Belfast two weeks ago and called him out on them, both publicly and privately. Rashford was left behind as United won in the FA Cup at Newport and a fine of two weeks’ wages soon followed.

Ten Hag publicly and privately called Rashford out for his drinking sessions in Belfast

Ten Hag publicly and privately called Rashford out for his drinking sessions in Belfast

Rashford returned to score against Wolves after being omitted against Newport County

Rashford returned to score against Wolves after being omitted against Newport County

Many people did not like all this. They saw this as another example of Ten Hag being overzealous in criticizing his players. They suggested that he should have kept the business in-house and under cover, despite the fact that five pages of explosive and detailed coverage in the Sun newspaper made it all quite impossible.

So, yes, Ten Hag took a stick, just as he called out Jadon Sancho earlier in the season. But then something happened. Ten Hag put Rashford back into his team when few expected it for the Wolves game and the 26-year-old scored after three minutes.

United won 4-3 that night and then, last weekend, Rashford played 90 minutes as his side produced perhaps their most complete performance of the season to win 3-0 at West Ham.

So it seems that Ten Hag got this one right. Of course, we won’t hear much about it. When things go wrong for players, they have an army of agents and PR snoops to inform on their behalf in a transparent and desperate attempt to shift blame and evaporate the hint of bad behaviour. Some people even fall for such bulls**t.

However, managers do not really have it at their disposal. Gone are the days of top flight coaches speaking off the record to reporters to increase levels of context, perspective and understanding. Clubs don’t allow it. It makes them nervous.

So the only PR people like Ten Hag have comes in the form of results. In any case, the Dutchman is not a particularly eloquent speaker. He is not very charismatic. All he has to put on the table is his job at United. It might have to get better if he wants to survive the summer.

But Ten Hag played it right with Cristiano Ronaldo last season, he played it right with Sancho last autumn and now he has played it right with Rashford too. Some people will claim that they don’t see it that way, but that’s largely because they’re not terribly willing to look.

Man United produced their most complete performance of the season against West Ham

Man United produced their most complete performance of the season against West Ham

The Dutchman was firm in his handling of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho

The Dutchman was firm in his handling of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho

Ten Hag correctly assessed Rashford's situation, as he did with both Ronaldo and Sancho

Ten Hag correctly assessed Rashford’s situation, as he did with both Ronaldo and Sancho

Premier League to avoid semi-automatic offside

The Premier League is unlikely to use semi-automatic offside technology next season because they believe it is less than perfect.

Good enough for the World Cup. Good enough for the Champions League. Not good enough for us. Strange.

Light the Wembley Arch for El Tel

The Football Association will no longer light up the Wembley Arch for social or political causes after the uproar that followed their decision not to do so in support of Israel last October.

However, they remain free to do so when it comes to football and when Brazil arrive for a friendly next month, it would be fitting if they do so in memory of Terry Venables.

Venables, who died last November, ignited our game as an England manager. The summer of 1996 was one we all remember and not just because England almost reached the finals of the European Championships.

We remember it because of how England played to beat Holland 4-1 in the group stage. We remember it for that Paul Gascoigne goal against Scotland. We remember it because we almost beat Germany in the semi-finals.

The Football Association should light the Wembley Arch for Terry Venables next month

The Football Association should light the Wembley Arch for Terry Venables next month

The late England boss deserves a fitting tribute for the summer his team provided in 1996

The late England boss deserves a fitting tribute for the summer his team provided in 1996

That time of our life was not perfect. There was still a lot wrong with our game then. But Venables and his English team made us forget all about it for one golden month. It is for this – and many other reasons – that Venables needs a proper tribute on March 23.

If we don’t light the Wembley Arch for Terry, when will we?

Inter Miami’s Messi tour falls flat in the Far East

Miami’s pre-season trip to the Far East should have brought guaranteed wins as Lionel Messi was in the touring party.

Inter Miami’s pre-season trip to the Far East should have brought guaranteed wins as Lionel Messi was in the touring party.

But the visit ran into trouble when Messi was deemed not fit enough to play in a match against a Hong Kong XI for which 38,000 tickets were sold at more than £100 each.

Inter Miami owner David Beckham was booed when he spoke after the game, while dignitaries in the Hong Kong city made their own feelings known afterwards.

Inter Miami's tour hit a snag as Lionel Messi remained on the bench in Hong Kong

Inter Miami’s tour hit a snag as Lionel Messi remained on the bench in Hong Kong

The incident showed that only marquee stars like Messi give the MLS some shine

The incident showed that only marquee stars like Messi give the MLS some shine

And that’s the problem with the American MLS. It is his marquee overseas players that give him some shine. Without them, it’s just another minority sport in a country suffocated by the reach of American football, baseball and basketball.

Messi, however long he stays, won’t change that. Nor the USA’s 2026 World Cup. Sometimes you just have to accept your place in line and get on with it.