Manchester City have signed Erling Haaland and their chairman has publicly promised two more signings. City, champions in four of the last five years, do not stand still. United appear to be statue still.
Football fans are not renowned for their patience at this time of year and it has not gone unnoticed Borussia Dortmund have recruited seven new players and Aston Villa have agreed two deals. That is a diverse collection of proactive clubs before the transfer window has officially opened.
It leaves United with few excuses after their worst season in living memory. Things can change, but the club are not expecting any major movement before the window’s opening date of June 10.
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Already, there are obvious flaws to United’s strategy. The interest in Kalvin Phillips is fraught with nuance – would a Yorkshireman follow the same path as Eric Cantona and Alan Smith? Would Leeds stay up? – and Erik ten Hag’s powers of persuasion are unlikely to convince Frenkie de Jong.
Objectively, why would De Jong, a 25-year-old regular starter for Barcelona tied to the club for four more years, spend his peak years at a club that yo-yos from the Champions League to the Europa League, never challenging for the former and without a domestic championship in almost 10 years? Money, you might say. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, that has been the cause of, and solution to, all of United’s problems in the market. Only they have solved little.
United have dispensed with the two scouts with the highest-profile titles, so are their recommendations disregarded? John Murtough is busy, as everyone in his line of work is as June looms, but it remains to be seen if he is as skilful a negotiator as Matt Judge, United’s deal-maker in the last six years.
Ten Hag last week reiterated he would conduct his own analysis. The United manager has a right to veto a target and so does the recruitment department. United were decisive in jettisoning Ralf Rangnick before his consultancy contract became active and they have to be similarly ruthless with the playing staff.
It is not taxing to draw up a short and long-term squad plan. United should know who to reserve seats for in the departures’ lounge this summer and next.
Fourteen players are out of contract next year, albeit all of them bar Tahith Chong have a one-year option. There is a case to negotiate renewals with some (Fred and David de Gea) but others are effectively on trial (Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford). The extension should be left dormant in the deals of Phil Jones and Andreas Pereira if they are still lingering this time next year.
The goalkeeping situation may still be unresolved in a year time as United would prefer to loan Dean Henderson again. That actually increases the pressure on De Gea, a goalkeeper who has figuratively stood still.
De Gea, still only 31, is destined to break into the top 10 for United appearance makers next season and if he evolves his game to Ten Hag’s specifications he might have new paperwork to inscribe. If not, then Henderson could get a (nother) chance in Ten Hag’s second season.
Daniel Bachmann and Karl Darlow are under consideration as a back-up addition and Tom Heaton’s contract has a limit of 2024, so there is scope for a major goalkeeping departure next year – permanently. United are loath to invest in a new goalkeeper when their incumbent No.1 could continue for another five years and have a No.2 aged 25.
United are planning to discard two full-backs in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams. Diogo Dalot, effectively contracted to the club for another two years, is 23 and has reasonable resale value but also merit as a squad player. Alex Telles turns 30 in December and is already bed-blocking Alvaro Fernandez. Shaw has had one great season in eight and United are considering upgrades at full-back on both sides.
How United handle the futures of Shaw and Rashford will be a gauge of how much the club has evolved under new leadership. Neither are irreplaceable and have to earn longer contracts over a sustained period. Shaw’s last extension was on the back of two fine months and Rashford’s with a maximum of two years left on his previous deal.
Sign a center-back this summer and entrust an academy prospect then Victor Lindelof is surplus next year. The Swede has been at United for five years and only in 2018-19 did he consistently perform at an acceptable level. Lindelof was another recipient of an unnecessary contract when he was only halfway through his first.
Wan-Bissaka, Williams, Eric Bailly and Anthony Martial are also under contract until 2024 and the intention is to offload all of them this summer. If the player turnover is as extreme as it needs to be then it can be more gradual next summer, in line with a progressive rebuild.
But if the outgoings are limited then United will still be standing still.