Manchester United have undergone considerable changes both on the pitch and in the dugout since the end of a dismal 2021/22 season and are reaping the rewards.
Erik ten Hag was appointed manager in May and was keen to bring assistant Mitchell van der Gaag with him from Ajax, as well as reuniting with former mentor Steve McClaren as someone who already had experience of working in a successful Old Trafford dressing room.
Ex-Ajax, Porto and Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy was also recruited at the end of July as a specialised attacking coach.
In addition to his spells in the Premier League, McCarthy was already pretty well known to United fans for his goals that helped Jose Mourinho’s Porto knock the Red Devils out of the Champions League back in 2003/04 en-route to lifting the trophy.
McCarthy finished his playing career in 2013 after a two-year spell with Orlando Pirates in the South African Premier Division. He moved into coaching within a couple of years, initially learning the ropes as an observer at Hibernian and then as an assistant with Belgian side Sint-Truiden.
A first head coach gig came at Cape Town City in 2017, winning South Africa’s MTN 8 Cup the following year, and later taking AmaZulu into the CAF Champions League off the back of their highest ever league finish. The latter feat earned him South African Premier Division Coach of the Year.
“[I want to] help these young players, push them, change their mindset and really try to make the difference to United this season,”
“Hopefully this season we’re going to see a completely revived United, a hungry bunch of players and a team that’s going to be able to challenge to get into the Champions League and change the dynamics of the Man Citys and Liverpools.”McCarthy told MUTV a few days after his arrival in Manchester.
Elaborating on the more specific nature of his role later that month, the former South Africa international explained what he has been tasked with: “Co-ordinating movements and finishing and making sure that the guys are sharp and that they’re ready and that the goalscoring continues and that they get the right goal scoring boots on.”
Erik ten Hag, himself a centre-back during his own playing career, explained only last month that McCarthy has brought ‘balance’ to the staff at Old Trafford because a lot of the existing coaches were defenders or midfielders as players.
“I never played [up front], so I’m lucky to have someone in my staff who played there,”
“Football is about scoring and you have a goalkeeping specialist, but you also have offensive specialists and in particular we have a specific scoring trainer. He has to add that, in details, working and for the rest of us he has a relationship to all the players in our squad. He also has to work on the togetherness and he is doing a great job on that.”Ten Hag said.
One player who has developed a particularly strong relationship with McCarthy is Marcus Rashford, who was coming off the back of the worst season in his career when 2022/23 began. It is no coincidence that United’s number 10 is now in the form of his life.
Since the World Cup, Rashford has been on fire for United. In the 14 games he has played in all competitions, the 25-year-old has scored or assisted or both in 13 of them.
United have also won 11 of those 14 games to reach the Carabao Cup final and consolidate their place in the Premier League top four, with Rashford now on 21 goals for the season and needing only one more to match his best ever tally – and almost half the campaign is still to play.
Although still explosive as a left-sided forward, fans have suggested that McCarthy’s influence is clear to see in Rashford’s performances due to the growing all-round nature of his goals, particularly with regard to his improved heading ability as was seen against Leeds.
Rashford actually spoke about McCarthy before the World Cup, confirming his massive influence.
“He’s definitely helped me a lot,”
“To have attack-minded coaches is good for us in the squad, he’s always there speaking to us about these things.”Rashford said in early November.