New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has only been given a £ 120million war chest and is struggling to bulk up his squad ahead of the club’s tours to Thailand and Australia
Manchester United embark on their pre-season tour on July 8 – with new boss Erik ten Hag no closer to knowing the make-up of his traveling squad.
Ten Hag wanted the bulk of his signings made before United left for the two-and-a-half-week tour of Thailand and Australia, to be able to integrate them into the existing squad. But with the first members of United’s squad back for pre-season training on Monday, when ten Hag will meet players face-to-face for the first time, the club are struggling to get deals done.
United chief executive Richard Arnold’s blunt admission – covertly recorded in a chat with disgruntled fans in a Cheshire pub – that the club had “f ****** burned through cash” is coming back to haunt the fallen giants. While Arnold bullishly claimed the funds are available for ten Hag to spend on the players he wants, it is understood the new manager’s transfer budget this summer is capped at £ 120million.
That limit is what prevented United from being legitimate contenders to sign Uruguay striker Darwin Nunez, who eventually joined their arch rivals Liverpool in a deal worth up to £ 85m. To sign Nunez would have effectively blown a significant chunk of ten Hag’s first transfer budget as United boss, leaving him with little to invest in other areas of the squad that need addressing.
Given United lost five first-team players this summer – Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata – ten Hag needs to spend his wisely over a number of positions. The 52-year-old wants a center-back, creative midfielder and a defensive midfielder, as well as a versatile striker who is able to play in a variety of positions across the forward line.
Ten Hag would also like to strengthen in both full-back positions, but there is an acceptance on his behalf that he is unable to address every area of the squad in one window and must prioritize. Against that backdrop, United are focusing on a center-back, striker and midfielder, but their failure to qualify for the Champions League has forced them to revise the players they are targeting.
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Given their current status as a Europa League side, with little hope of making an immediate return to the Champions League, United are targeting less high-profile players who are hungry for the chance to prove themselves. They include ten Hag’s former Ajax pair, central defender Lisandro Martinez and forward Antony, as well as another of his former charges, midfielder Frenkie De Jong, who Barcelona are keen to offload for £ 75m – £ 10m more than United are willing to pay.
While Manchester City and Liverpool are now so far ahead of United they cannot be considered direct rivals, the fact both have come out of the blocks so early in the transfer market this summer and done significant business only fuels the sense of incompetence at Old Trafford. During their all-conquering years under Sir Alex Ferguson, United were renowned for stealing a march on their rivals and getting their transfer business done early, to ensure they remained ahead of the chasing pack.
Now, with the chasing pack having overtaken them and disappeared out of sight, United find themselves cast in the role of bargain hunters, shopping around for the cheapest deals and restricted to a budget that is unlikely to see them return to the winner’s enclosure any time soon.