Hope springs eternal in the heat of summer for Manchester United these days, especially in light of the dismal on-field performances with which supporters have become sadly familiar.
Every summer transfer window is a chance to reset and rebuild, but perhaps never more so than this year’s edition, given the mass walkout fans expect (and hope) to see in the coming weeks. It is therefore heartening for them to see movements already being made to ship players out, and – crucial to the hope and excitement – bring replacements in.
The news in the past week that United will listen to offers for three defenders, in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams and Eric Bailly, was greeted with a largely positive reaction from the fanbase.
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Although all three players have enjoyed their moments, mostly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s friendly brand of man management, all have flattered to deceive at Old Trafford. And for fans it’s encouraging that the club are willing to offload players who still have years remaining on their contracts. That should mean the number of departees skyrockets, given six (Edinson Cavani, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Lee Grant) are all bound to leave at the end of June when their deals expire.
Taking that number to double figures is seen as essential, in the eyes of many United aficionados, to give incoming manager Erik ten Hag the clean slate he requires to perform a resuscitation job on the squad.
Wan-Bissaka’s potential exit may yield the most sadness. Given he was an exciting and expensive signing, arriving as a fresh-faced 21-year-old from Crystal Palace for £ 45million three years ago – under Solskjaer’s ‘cultural reset’ that sought young, hungry and homegrown footballers – it would be a shame to part ways so soon.
But the reality of the story is told by the simple number of England caps Wan-Bissaka has won in this time. Gareth Southgate has simply not seen the need to turn to United’s right-back when rivals from Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea (Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James) all make such compelling cases for selection. Even Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker-Peters, now of Newcastle and Southampton respectively, have been picked ahead of Wan-Bissaka for the Three Lions. Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey would probably have got the nod too, had it not been for injury. Ten Hag, it is understood, has decided there will be no spot in his United squad for Wan-Bissaka, with Diogo Dalot having ousted the Londoner in Ralf Rangnick’s first choice defense over the past few months. There are links to Ajax’s versatile defender Jurrien Timber.
Williams, like Wan-Bissaka, was once in United’s first pick back four at a stage under Solskjaer, but Luke Shaw’s return to form in the 2020/21 campaign and the arrival of Alex Telles put pay to the Harpurhey-born academy product’s progress. It seems logical that Williams stays with recent loan club Norwich on a permanent basis, or seeks a move lower down the Premier League to continue his first team journey. United actually scrapped plans to sign a left-back way back in the 2019/20 season because of Williams’ emergence, amid interest in Ben Chilwell, then eventually settled on Telles as a Shaw back-up months later.
It might be that the departures of Wan-Bissaka and Williams free up Ten Hag and United’s new-look staff to make the decisions in the transfer market that they ought to have made some years ago. A proper attacking right-back might be a start, and – although Telles is set to stay – some serious competition for the mercurial Shaw would be a bonus.
It certainly looks as though Ten Hag won’t be shy to make sweeping changes to a United squad desperately in need of some strict parenting. That means the return of hope for summer 2022, which in itself is not a surprise.