Manchester United are facing a crucial summer transfer window in which they need to reshape their underperforming squad for Erik ten Hag and midfield is an obvious area for improvement
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Manchester United have not been very good at making marquee signings in recent years.
United have been the most active club in Europe when it comes to spending money over the past decade. A damning recent report by the CIES Football Observatory found they had spent £1.3billion over the past 10 years while bringing in £397million in sales to give them a whopping negative net spend of £908m. They don’t have an awful lot to show for that expenditure.
The club are about to finish their fifth consecutive season without any silverware. They are sixth in the Premier League – and could still finish seventh to earn an unwanted place in the Europa Conference League next season, if West Ham win their final two matches. And that is despite spending £73m last summer to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.
Before Sancho came Harry Maguire, from Leicester in the summer of 2019 for £80m. Before him came Romelu Lukaku, from Everton in 2017 for £72m. Before him came Paul Pogba, from Juventus in 2016 for £89m. While all these players have had their moments, none of them can be held up as an undisputed success story.
That simply has to change this summer if Erik ten Hag is going to get off to a good start at the club. Ed Woodward – the man blamed by many for such a shoddy record in the transfer market – is gone and has been replaced by Richard Arnold as chief executive. Arnold is understood to be happy to delegate responsibility on football matters to others, meaning football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher will be more involved.
Ten Hag is understood to have met with Murtough , long-time Ajax assistant Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren in Amsterdam on Thursday to discuss next steps. With so many players out of contract and moving on, their first priorities need to be in the recruitment department.
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Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata are all poised to leave this summer. That makes midfield an obvious area to focus on initially – and an obvious choice for a big-name, big-money marquee signing. Ten Hag is understood to want two central midfielders, with West Ham’s Declan Rice, Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips, Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic all on the shortlist.
As Mirror Football has reported, there are problems with all of those players. Rice is valued at £150m by West Ham; Phillips doesn’t want to join a rival; Dortmund won’t sell Bellingham in the same window as Erling Haaland; Lazio have ruled out Milinkovic-Savic’s exit. But United need a world-class player in the middle of the pitch, someone to organise and drive the team on, someone better than Fred and Scott McTominay.
With six weeks to go until the transfer window even opens, City have already secured their marquee signing in the shape of Haaland. United need to respond.
There are signs they are doing just that, with reports about the club’s interest in Frenkie de Jong widespread. Unlike their other targets, Barcelona seem keen to play ball . De Jong is 25 years old , has experience at the highest level, is a fantastic passer and, crucially, has a close connection with Ten Hag, having come through under him at Ajax.
He ticks all the boxes – and should help rectify what Rio Ferdinand thinks is United’s biggest weakness of the past decade . “Recruitment, I think, has probably been one of the biggest downfalls of the last 10 years,” Ferdinand said on his YouTube channel Vibe with Five last month.
“At the beginning of the season, [Cristiano] Ronaldo comes in, [Raphael] Varane, Sancho, I’m excited, but it doesn’t work. We can’t afford to have windows like that again – the recruitment has to be right, you have to have the right reason to buy players that can help with the culture.”
Getting the midfield marquee signing right would be the perfect first step for Ten Hag on the road to turning around United’s sinking ship.