Alejandro Garnacho & Ten Hag's preseason: Why the silence says so much about Man Utd transformation

COMMENT: Alejandro Garnacho. For all the hype. For all the excitement. The biggest story to come from his emergence is everything we haven’t been told…

Stay fit. Stay focused. And the rest will fall into place. That’s basically been the message to Garnacho from Manchester United’s coaching staff since the end of last season. The kid is a predestined, as they say in his adopted home nation of Argentina. It wasn’t always like that, as we’ve detailed here, particularly as a junior when coming through Atletico Madrid’s academy.

But in terms of natural development and progress, his last 12 months at Carrington have been exceptional. For raw talent. For pure potential. Garnacho, at 18, is as good as they’ve seen inside the academy this century. Adnan Januzaj has been mentioned multiple times by sources inside the United system. And you can understand the comparison.

But as it’s been made public over the past week, Garnacho hasn’t been short of problems. It hasn’t been about attitude, but simply “focus”. Poor timekeeping. Poor concentration. The demands Erik ten Hag insisted Garnacho meet hit him like a freight train in preseason.

It wasn’t anything he did consciously. Simply, for all the talent he has, the step up was mentally too much for him. Ten Hag had identified Garnacho as a first teamer in preseason. He was ready to go with him. But United’s new manager needed to know he could trust the teen.

In a first move, Garnacho impressed. The winger cutting short his summer break to barely a fortnight in order to be on the plane for the Thailand leg of United’s preseason tour. But it wouldn’t be until the squad had returned to Manchester that Garnacho would get on the pitch for that final preseason game against Rayo Vallecano.

Mystery surrounded the reasons for the player’s absence. Though with Cristiano Ronaldo and Jorge Mendes sucking all the oxygen out of the room, it wasn’t actively pursued. There were whispers of Garnacho arriving late for a training session in Bangkok, but little else.

Of course now, four months into the season, and with Garnacho firmly established as a first team option, we have the full picture. Courtesy of Ten Hag, no less. And backed up by Bruno Fernandes. Those whispers were correct. That speculation about timekeeping was spot on. The lapses in concentration on the training pitch now publicly confirmed.

A matchwinning performance in the Europa League against Real Sociedad still had Garnacho being brought down to earth with a thud by Fernandes: “He didn’t get his chances before because he was not good enough in training and not good enough mentality-wise. He’s changed that, that’s why he’s getting chances.”

Before then, Ten Hag had, for the first time, raised those preseason issues when Garnacho impressed in Europe against Sheriff Tiraspol: “In the last weeks, he had a better attitude, more resilience, more determination.

“He deserved his chance, but there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially in the defending part, in the pressing part, in the counter press, in the defence transition.”

The pundits didn’t like it. Nor did some ex-Carrington staff. The choice of Fernandes and Ten Hag to highlight publicly Garnacho’s past issues heavily criticised by the usual suspects. But for all the assumptions and projection from these exes, the result remains that Ten Hag, as he says himself, has now “one more player”. Just as the Dutchman has shown with his market work. Just as he’s displayed with his coaching. When it comes to managing young talent, Ten Hag, with what we’re now seeing from Garnacho, knows what he’s doing.

From the outside, they can wail, but the result of Ten Hag’s approach was Garnacho’s performance in the midweek Carabao Cup win against Aston Villa. They can still moan about Fernandes, but his words appeared to have had zero negative effect on his young teammate. Could it be that Ten Hag and the senior leaders he’s chosen this season actually know what they’re doing…?

But beyond all the hand wringing, for this column, the biggest positive to come from the whole affair was the silence. The silence around Garnacho’s absence in preseason. The silence we had with the youngster’s omission in the early rounds of the new campaign. There were no leaks. No whisper campaign. We knew nothing about what was going on around Garnacho until Ten Hag and Fernandes spoke publicly about him. When you consider the expectations around the winger. The transfer speculation. The contract rumours. That the first thing we learn about his issues in preseason came from his manager is a clear, positive sign of the changing culture inside United.

Another year. Another manager. And we’d have known about Garnacho’s tardiness within hours of that training session in Bangkok. Instead with this group. And with this manager. The news is broke in the time and manner of Ten Hag’s choosing. For this column, the transformation is staggering.

Garnacho and his emergence is the story. No doubt about that. But the way Ten Hag and his dressing room have managed to control it is another clear sign of the positive changes we’re now seeing inside this club.