Erik ten Hag can consider Manchester United wildcard to solve £50m transfer problem in pre-season – George Smith


The Erik ten Hag era is officially up and running.

A selection of Manchester United first-team players reported back to the club’s Carrington training base on Monday for the beginning of pre-season training and the start of the Ten Hag revolution. United’s players will return for pre-season in phases, with those who didn’t feature on the international stage earlier this month the first to report back and meet up with the new boss and his coaching team.

David de Gea, Tom Heaton, Victor Lindelof, Donny van de Beek, Antony Martial and youngster Alejandro Garnacho were among the faces to attend the opening day of what promises to be a rigorous pre-season campaign. United, following last season’s disappointments, can ill-afford to waste any time this summer, as Ten Hag embarks on the challenge of trying to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.

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Although Ten Hag was not joined on day one in the job by any new recruits, with United still pushing for their first signing of the summer, a selection of youngsters were invited to report back with the first-team squad, such as Ethan Laird, Alvaro Fernandez and Shola Shoretire, with the trio all pictured by club media. They, like several other youngsters, will be planning to impress Ten Hag over the next week or so, ahead of the Dutchman selecting which players he wants to take to Thailand on July 8 for the pre-season tour.

Despite no new signings as of yet, competition for places over pre-season promises to be high, certainly in some positions, anyway. And among the positions where competition may prove to be fierce over the next few weeks is right-back, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who also returned to Carrington on Monday, Diogo Dalot and Laird vying for the role.

Wan-Bissaka, who is understood to be available to leave Old Trafford this summer, regularly battled it out with Dalot last season for the right-back spot, with United struggling for consistency in that area of ​​the pitch. Dalot was a more regular fixture under Ralf Rangnick, but his failure to grab a single assist suggests United need an alternative option to fulfill the duties of a modern-day full-back.

Wan-Bissaka, who joined United from Crystal Palace in 2019 for a fee of £50million, was added to the squad with a view to him becoming the club’s mainstay at right-back for years to come. He had caught the eye at Palace and was soon tipped to become a future star. However, he has failed to kick on at Old Trafford, meaning the right-back spot has become an area of ​​concern, with question marks having been raised about whether or not Dalot is up to the challenge.

Therefore, pre-season presents the ideal opportunity for Laird to throw his name into the ring. The United academy graduate spent last season on loan at both Swansea City and Bournemouth. While his loan spell with the latter was hampered by injury issues, he caught the eye on several occasions in Swansea colours, leaving their supporters gutted when he changed clubs mid-season.

Ethan Laird’s loan spell at Bournemouth was dictated by injury woes.

Highly rated by those inside Carrington, Laird is quick, strong in the air, a good passer of the ball, defensively sound and loves to get high up the pitch and fulfill the duties of a modern-day full-back. What’s more, he’s only 20 years old, meaning he, like several others, will be hoping to capture Ten Hag’s attention over the coming weeks and become a part of his plans this season.

At Swansea, Laird often played as a wing-back, racking up four assists in 21 appearances in league and cup. Three of those assists came in the Championship, meaning that he soon adapted to playing at that level for the first time in his career.

But while the jump from the Championship to the Premier League is a big one to make, it’s not an impossible one. Several have done it in recent years and Laird, with the right guidance, particularly from a manager who unlocked the potential of so many youngsters at Ajax, could be the next player to successfully bridge the gap.

There is nothing to say that Laird is going to go from being a youngster out on loan to United’s first-choice right-back in just a few weeks, but pre-season presents the chance for him to catch the eye. If he does just that, he will fancy his chances of cementing himself in Ten Hag’s plans.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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