No one can be quite sure what the next few months will hold for Manchester United but, equally, no one can accuse Erik ten Hag of not holding up his end of the bargain as the club enters a potentially defining period in its history.
Having ended United’s six-year wait for a trophy with League Cup success in February, the Dutchman oversaw the club’s return to Champions League competition with a 4-1 victory over Chelsea that expunged any need for a result against Fulham on Sunday, and what could have been a nervy final day.
If United can now go and dent Manchester City’s treble bid by adding a second piece of silverware, and in the process preserve their status as the only English club to have won the big three in a single season, then it will have proved a very fruitful first season indeed at Old Trafford for Ten Hag.
As a starting point, they will have to be a lot better defensively at Wembley than they were here to pull that off – for all their threat going forward, this ludicrously open game could have finished 10-5. But what happens beyond that City game and into next season will hinge on the successful resolution of the ownership saga and a smart summer of trading in the transfer window, both in terms of incomings and outgoings.
At least with Champions League qualification secured — something the club failed to achieve in four of the previous nine seasons — Ten Hag has guaranteed a precious revenue stream and cemented one pivotal building block amid the wider uncertainty presented by the takeover.
And if Jim Ratcliffe or Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani do take the reins, the manager will hope they do not prove as trigger-happy and excitable as Todd Boehly has at Chelsea.
There are the makings of a very good team at United — but only the makings. Casemiro, who scored for the second game running to get the ball rolling and was influential in the second, scored by Anthony Martial, has been a key addition. Bruno Fernandes was everywhere once again and got on the scoresheet with a penalty. Marcus Rashford scored his 30th goal late on and, in doing so, became the first United player to reach that milestone since Robin van Persie a decade ago.
Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw are stalwarts and Lisandro Martinez will be back for pre-season following the metatarsal injury that ended his campaign prematurely. Alejandro Garnacho, still only 18, has bags of potential. Antony has shown glimpses but may now be facing a spell on the sidelines after being substituted with what Ten Hag suggested was a “serious” injury.
Too many others need ousting, though, or are in the last-chance saloon. Jadon Sancho, for example, was a threat here but can he be trusted to deliver consistently next season? The reality is the squad still requires major surgery and it would be a profound disappointment to Ten Hag if a promising first season’s work is stunted over the course of a frustrating summer.
United, in fairness, were very much the poor relation of the established top-six last season, even if the crisis gripping Chelsea this term has put those struggles into some perspective. But the way Ten Hag has brought some order to the chaos and apathy that was engulfing Old Trafford will encourage Chelsea that things can improve fairly quickly, even if no United fan is kidding themselves that their club have suddenly cracked it.
There is an awful lot of work to do — and get right — this summer and still so many questions that need answering.
The Daily Telegraph in London