Erik ten Hag has told his Manchester United players they must channel their emotions following the death of club great Sir Bobby Charlton when they face Copenhagen in a must-win Champions League game on Tuesday night.
United are in mourning after World Cup winner Charlton died at the age of 86 on Saturday, and Ten Hag began a press conference on Monday by leading a minute’s silence at the club’s Carrington training ground.
Ten Hag cited Charlton as an inspiration for his players in Saturday’s 2-1 win away to Sheffield United, secured by Diogo Dalot’s late winner, but Tuesday’s match will be United’s first home game since Charlton’s death, an opportunity to pay tribute on and off the pitch.
“Sir Bobby was a legend, a giant, not only for Manchester United but for football,” Ten Hag said.
“The legacy that he left for standards, high standards, we have to live it every day. Of course first of all our thoughts are with his family, his wife, children and grandchildren.
“But it’s also what he meant for Manchester United, his importance for Manchester United. The standards he set, we have to live it and in the last couple of days they were emphasised.
“We are professionals and it is our job, but you can’t ban emotions. You use emotions in the right way.”
United have confirmed that the match will be preceded by a special tribute to Charlton, culminating in a minute’s silence, while a wreath will be laid on his seat in the directors’ box and players and club staff will wear black armbands.
The match programmes for both the Copenhagen game and Sunday’s Manchester derby will feature special tributes to Charlton, and Sunday’s match will begin with a minute’s applause as well as flags and banners at Old Trafford.
Players will also wear black armbands and a minute’s silence will be observed at all EFL matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.
United go into the Copenhagen game needing a win after starting their Group A campaign with defeats to both Bayern Munich and Galatasaray, the first time they have begun a European campaign with back-to-back losses.
“We have to win every game,” Ten Hag said. “If you see the group, if you lose the first two games you definitely have to win.”
Dalot’s powerful strike at Bramall Lane drew comparisons with some of Charlton’s goals, something the Portugal international said he had been honoured to be told.
“I was fortunate enough to get to know him since I arrived at the club,” Dalot said.
“He was always there after the game no matter if we won the game or lost the game, he was always there ready to give you a word of appreciation or sometimes to say we have to play a little bit better.
“He represented the standards for this club and the standards that we wanted for this club.”
Although they ground out the victory, United were again far from their best in Saturday’s win over the Blades, with social media full of grumbling from fans amid a pedestrian start to the campaign.
But Ten Hag said he continues to feel the firm backing of the supporters inside Old Trafford, and expects a special atmosphere on Tuesday night.
“It’s always special every night at Old Trafford, the fans are always so behind us,” the Dutchman said.
“I remember the last game, the home game against Brentford, even the game is not going in our direction they stayed behind us in difficult moments and moments of adversity around Manchester United the fans are still with us and we are with the fans, we are fighting together.
“Definitely tomorrow after the passing away of Sir Bobby Charlton, their hero, their legend, their giant, I’m sure there will be an even more emotional evening tomorrow.”
Fans have flocked to Old Trafford to leave flowers, scarves and messages around the United Trinity statue of Charlton, Denis Law and George Best outside the ground and to write their own personal tributes in the book of condolence at the International Suite inside the stadium.
United legends left emotional messages for Sir Bobby ❤️
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 23, 2023
Former United players Brian Kidd, Paddy Crerand, Gary Neville and Wes Brown were among those to leave messages in the book.
Neville wrote: “The greatest English footballer and the greatest ambassador for English football.
“The epitome of what a Manchester United player is: honesty, courage, hard work, loyalty and talent!
“The Busby Babes are my heroes and I hope you are all hugging each other right now.
“Thank you isn’t enough for how much you have done for our great club.”
Our #Lionesses paid tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton today at St. George’s Park. 🏴
A fitting tribute to a footballing giant. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/9z6vOZt56e
— England (@England) October 23, 2023
England’s women’s squad paid tribute to the World Cup winner at St George’s Park on Monday, laying a wreath at the pitch named in his honour at the training complex.
Tuesday night’s game also promises to be a special occasion for United striker Rasmus Hojlund, the 20-year-old summer signing who came through the ranks at hometown club Copenhagen, where his younger brothers Emil and Oscar still play.
“You know it’s a special game for him,” Ten Hag said of a player who has scored three in two Champions League appearances for United so far.
“He grew up at the club and you know he will be highly motivated. It’s for me, for the team but especially of course for him to use that in the right direction, the right balance.”