CHRIS WHEELER: Man United have lost some of their sparkle and the power to boss the transfer market… it is a challenge they can ill afford to get wrong as Erik ten Hag chapter begins, but there’s no need to panic yet!
- Getting rid of players was always going to be the easy part for Erik Ten Hag
- Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic left
- However, attracting players has been slightly more difficult for the Dutch boss
- Manchester City and Liverpool have made a flying start to the transfer window
- United had prioritised signing Frenkie De Jong but little progress has been made
Getting rid of players was always going to be the easy bit for Manchester United this summer.
Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic were expected to leave as free agents. Dean Henderson, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones will happily follow them out of Old Trafford if deals can be done.
This is a squad desperately in need of a clear-out, giving new manager Erik ten Hag the ideal opportunity to start afresh.
Getting rid of players was always going to be the easy part for Erik ten Hag at Man United
Jesse Lingard (left), Paul Pogba (right), Edinson Cavani, Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic all left Old Trafford as free agents
The hard part for United, however, was going to be convincing their transfer targets to sign up for the Ten Hag project – and so it is proving.
While Manchester City and Liverpool have made a flying start to the transfer window, United appear to be lagging even though they are in need of considerably more reinforcements than their rivals.
It is causing concern among the fanbase and club favourite Gary Neville. ‘I know (it’s) early in the window but it’s worrying that United are struggling to get business done,’ Neville posted this week.
‘The others seem set and ready yet United can’t get moving. ETH needs his group together asap to mould them. Bringing them in late will only make it harder for him! Fingers crossed it happens soon.’
United can no longer use their superior pulling – and spending – power to gazump the rest. Those clubs are City and Liverpool now. City landed their top target in Erling Haaland, and Liverpool got theirs in Darwin Nunez.
Manchester City and Liverpool have made great start to the summer window – with Pep Guardiola’s side confirming the signing of Erling Haaland (above)
United prioritised Frenkie De Jong but little progress appears to have been made despite several weeks of negotiations with Barcelona amid worrying noises from the player that he would prefer to stay at the Nou Camp.
Ten Hag has been linked with another of his former Ajax players, defender Jurrien Timber, but the latest reports from Holland suggest that he too is unconvinced about moving to Old Trafford. If Ten Hag can’t convince them to come then who can?
United hoped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be the ace card in talks with his old Molde striker Haaland when the Norwegian hot-shot left Red Bull Salzburg in January 2020, but he chose Borussia Dortmund instead.
The reality is that, for now at least, United have lost their sparkle after a decade of underachievement. Players are no longer falling over themselves to move to Old Trafford.
Liverpool also forked out on former Benfica forward Darwin Nunez ahead of next season
United had prioritised the signing of Frenkie De Jong but little progress has been made
The top ones want to sign for clubs where success is at their fingertips from the get-go; to fit straight into a winning formula. Look how quickly Luis Diaz slotted in at Liverpool in January, joining a battle for silverware on four fronts that continued until the final days of the season.
Compare that to Pogba’s underwhelming six-year spell back at United. Say what you like about Pogba, but the French World Cup winner committed some of the best years of his career to the club and achieved comparatively little. Other players will see that and take note.
After lifting the Europa League and EFL Cup in Pogba’s first season, United have won nothing since and arguably moved backwards.
That is the problem facing new chief executive Richard Arnold and, more specifically, football director John Murtough this summer. Arnold and Murtough deserve credit for the speed with which they have brought about change at United in recent months. Making the club a more attractive proposition for new signings will take a little more time and patience.
Ten Hag has been linked with another of his former Ajax players, defender Jurrien Timber, but the latest reports from Holland suggest that he too is unconvinced about moving to United
The lack of Champions League football not only makes United a harder sell to potential signings, it has also dented the budget. The buzzword around Old Trafford this summer is of a ‘disciplined’ approach to the transfer market.
United will not bow to Barcelona’s demand for £70million for De Jong and will walk away if a compromise cannot be reached.
Equally, Christian Eriksen’s availability as a free agent following his remarkable comeback at Brentford last season has naturally revived United’s interest in the Dane as they look to replace three attacking midfielders in Pogba, Lingard and Mata. It would be a surprise if United didn’t at least try to sign a defensive midfielder before the deadline as well.
The other priority besides central midfield is a new striker. United refused to be drawn into a bidding war with Liverpool for Nunez, but they are acutely aware of the need to take some of the burden off Cristiano Ronaldo.
United have also registered an interest in signing Christian Eriksen on a free transfer
Strengthening in other areas such as right-back, central defence and on the wing will depend on how much money United can generate by selling players. Henderson, Martial, Bailly and Jones are all available and the club will listen to offers for Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
It is a challenge and one that United can ill afford to get wrong as they begin a new chapter under Ten Hag.
But, as Neville says, it’s early days. The window only officially opened last week and doesn’t close until September 1. United have plenty of time and people in charge who seem to be more realistic about what is required to get the club back on track. There is no reason to panic just yet.
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