With just two games of a forgettable campaign remaining, most eyes are already focused on the summer and next season at Manchester United.
Despite spending north of £100million last summer in a bid to turn themselves back into genuine Premier League title contenders, United are set to end the season without securing Champions League football for next term. Monday evening’s 3-0 win over Brentford may have moved them back to within five points of the top-four, but the fact that Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur each have two games in hand means that their hopes of qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition next term are all but over.
However, the impending arrival of Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford is expected to lift some of the gloom and signal the beginning of an exciting new era for the club. The Ajax chief will take charge ahead of next season and this summer he promises to be one of the most intriguing that the Reds have faced in years.
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Big changes need to be made throughout the football club, not least to the first-team squad. Big-name players are expected to depart and several new additions are set to be made.
Although United’s supporters have the summer to look forward to with intrigue, they also have two more Premier League assignments to get through before the curtain is finally brought down on a dismal campaign. On Thursday, MEN Sport’s chief United writer, Samuel Luckhurst, hosted a Q&A in an attempt to try and answer as many questions as possible that United’s fans had for him, ranging from the club’s summer transfer plans to Ten Hag.
Q: Who do you think United’s first signing will be and when? And how is the deputy director of football going?
SL: There is absolutely no point in getting into guesswork and timeframes, especially when one is likely to be quoted out of context on social media. There should be something on United’s structure/restructuring next week, so that will be saved for a story.
Q: I’d like to ask you about Scott McTominay. Whilst I admire his desire and passion he shares for the club, I also think that he isn’t a player who would be a regular starter at any of the top six clubs. With the modern game needing technical quality players, I personally think he isn’t the answer for United, even in the future. I think the club should consider selling him in the next couple of years (definitely not this summer). Would you agree with me?
SL: He is a squad player at best who has overachieved in forging a career at United. I’ve always been of that opinion. In terms of potentially selling him, that depends on how good the midfield is.
United’s best summer window was 2007, not just because of the incomings but the outgoings. They sold Kieran Richardson, Gabriel Heinze and Alan Smith because they were surplus through the squad strengthening.
McTominay can fill a [Darren] Fletcher-like role for United but he has been overplayed because the club stopped signing out-and-out midfielders in the last four years (Donny van de Beek was viewed as a playmaker upon arrival).
Q: I’ve read a few articles suggesting United scouts were tasked to look at recruitment for three players. Do you see a scenario where United would sign as little as that, given general quality issues and player exits?
SL: If they had the nerve to try and get away with that then supporters who have renewed their season tickets should demand their money back and Ten Hag should walk. As stated earlier, they aim for a minimum of three signings.
United are, frankly, too craven and inept to proactively promise five or six signings.
Q: Do you think Tyrone Mings might be a possible solution for Man Utd at centre-half? He’s a good, English centre-back with good height.
SL: I’ve just checked the date and it’s not April 1… He’s been lucky to have kept his place in the England squad. He’s had a poor season and sounds like an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signing!
Q: Do you think United could bring two CB’s in to replace Eric Bailly and Phil Jones? And is there a possibility of the departure of Harry Maguire? Also, did you have any information about [Frenkie] of Jong?
SL: They are looking for one and one would suffice. they have [Raphael] Varane, Maguire, [Victor] Lindeloff, [Axel] Tuanzebe and [Teden] Mengi as well. Also, it is beyond a club as bad at selling players as United to get rid of two centre-backs to sign two. That’s too much turnover for most squads.
Maguire is wishful thinking among supporters who want to see the back of him. De Jong is an obvious player to link to United because of Ten Hag. Fans need to do their research: De Jong is starting regularly for Barcelona and is under contract until 2026. United are also going to be in the Europa League next season. Join the dots.
On a similar note, Ronald Araujo has, lo and behold, signed a new Barcelona contract after being baselessly linked with United.
Q: Is there any truth to the Christopher Nkunku links? Obviously Ralf Rangnick likes him due to Leipzig connections but would he be a player that United would consider over [Darwin] Nunez, for example? And, also, do you know if Ten Hag was consulted about the Bruno Fernandes new contract, or was this just a club decision?
SL: I wrote last month United are interested in Nkunku, so if I now said there was no truth I should be sacked on the spot.
I haven’t seen enough of either player to judge. With Nunez, you gave the Portuguese half an inch and they will take a million thousands when it comes to linking Benfica players with United.
Fernandes was a club decision. For all the social media engagement United got out of that, all it succeeded in doing was raising Fernandes’s salary. And his form of him nosediving.
Q: With regards to the centre-back situation, it seems like Bailly and Jones are wantaways. That would leave us with only three senior CB options, which is obviously insufficient. The names I’ve seen for a new centre-back are all left-footed, left sided CB’s (your Pau Torres’ of this world). Who else do you reckon could be a target for that left-footed centre-back profile that we seemingly want? Perhaps someone younger with potential like Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton, or maybe someone more established with already-existing great quality like Tyrone Mings?
SL: Four-Tuanzebe. Are you Solskjaer or related to Solskjaer? Branthwaite and Mings are a very 2019 cultural reset – and look at how badly that went.
United are in a similar situation to three years ago but they cannot use the same strategy of targeting British players at low-level clubs because it did not work and it is not what they need.
Q:How many players will Manchester United sign according to you, considering five first team players are already leaving for free + more players want to leave? Also, are the club actively looking for [Aurelien]Tchouameni and Nkunku?
SL: The club actively told me last summer they did not want Tchouameni. So now they’ll probably sign him. Social media sites about to copy and paste my quote: I am not being serious.
Nkunku has been watched.
Q: When will Ten Hag arrive at United, and is there any news regarding the assistant manager?
SL: There have been some suggestions his introductory press conference could be at the end of this month or early June, rather than in July before they leave for the pre-season tour.
My colleague Tyrone Marshall wrote about his possible assistant a couple of weeks ago.
Q: Do you think it will make sense for United to allow Ten Hag to decide on summer transfer signings for our team, having in mind he doesn’t know much about the intensity in Premier League?
SL: Well, if they thought he shouldn’t decide then they shouldn’t have hired him. I agree, the gulf between Dutch football and the Premier League is a major issue that United and a lot of their fans just gloss over. Ajax’s scorers at the weekend were Dusan Tadic and Davy Klaassen – Premier League rejects.
Ten Hag knows he is going to be operating at a higher level, so he needs a higher caliber of players.
Q: How genuine/strong is the claimed interest in both [Jurrien] Timber and Tchouameni? And how much weight can we put into reported interest in other players at this stage, given the structural changes at United and with Ten Hag putting the United job on the back-burner until Ajax have completed their season?
SL: Really strange question, given I’ve written about players of interest. Ample context has been provided: United have a recruitment meeting in September to prepare for the next summer window, a shortlist is finalized in January and they explore the possibility of executing deals from February onwards.
Names will have been mentioned to Ten Hag and the manager has a veto on targets (eg. David Moyes with Thiago in 2013 and Louis van Gaal with Toni Kroos in 2014).
Q: What is Marcus Rashford’s priority? is it to remain at United, only if he will have guarantees of game time? Certain journalists stated Marcus wants to be important for the club and hopes for the World Cup with England. If Ten Hag doesn’t guarantee him game time is he planning to leave?
SL: If Ten Hag tells him he’s not going to be a regular then he will probably look to move elsewhere. Ten Hag is an invidious position regarding the attack.
There is going to be an exodus of attack-minded players and Martial has had two good seasons out of seven and did not want to be at United in the second half of the season. That possibly ensures Rashford continues at United for half-a-season or a season more and his situation is reviewed at the end of 2022-23 (United have a one-year option to tie him to the club until 2024).
Martial is the superior talent but the wrong attitude. Rashford’s own work-ethic has been questioned this season as well, so they are in danger of mirroring each other in almost every negative way.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.