It’s the time of year again where Manchester United are looking to the future, but this time around it’s a bit more urgent. Well, it was urgent last summer to sign a midfielder along with Jadon Sancho, and the decision to neglect that in favor of nostalgia pandering has come with it’s hefty cost, but now at least it seems like even the Glazers are ready to do something about it.
So, without further word count, here are the opinions of the staff, hopeful and realistic, on just who Manchester United should sign in the summer to give Erik ten Hag the best shot at kickstarting his rebuild.
Hopeful: Non-Declan Rice defensive midfielder, Paul Pogba replacement midfielder, central midfielder, backup defensive midfielder, right back, backup left back
I’m not here to name names because I’m not a scout. I’m just here to say these are the areas that United need to address. It’s a lot, therefore buying a £100 million player and only having enough money for maybe one or two other signings ain’t gonna get it done. Find hidden gems, they’re out there and that’s what you have scouts for.
United need a ton of work. Far too much to address in one season. So in that case, don’t try to do it all once. Fix the engine first - that’s your midfield - then worry about the aerodynamics, tires, and drivers. As we are very much seeing this year, buying the cool fancy attacking or defensive players does nothing if you don’t have players that can get them the ball or protect your defense.
First things first you need to sign a player to replace Nemanja Matic. Then you can’t expect that player to play 50 games a year or not get hurt at any point. If he does get hurt, then we’re right back to where we are now, which is simply not good enough. So you need to add a backup as well (maybe that can be Ethan Galbraith). Paul Pogba is probably going to leave and seeing how this team’s creativity drops off a cliff when he doesn’t play, you’re going to need to replace him - and I wouldn’t be certain that Donny van de Beek is that guy even with Erik Ten Hag coming in. That’s three midfielders, now you still need a fourth because, and I say this as the leader of the #FredHive, Fred is nothing more than a squad player and you can’t be just one injury away from having to go to Scott McTominay. If Erik Ten Hag wants to play a style of football that requires technical ability in the middle of the park (spoiler alert: he does) then Scott McTominay can’t be starting games anymore. He’s a good option to come off the bench and see out a win, but nothing more (this probably can be James Garner).
Obviously, the team still needs a right-back and while in theory Alex Telles is a “competent backup” left-back, that goes out the window as soon as Shaw gets hurt and Telles actually has to play.
Address the spine of the team, then next summer start upgrading the skill at the front and back.
Realistic: A midfielder who costs way too much money, an ill-fitting striker, and lots of rumors that “maybe we’ll make another signing... if there are outgoings”
I’ll be looking at first-team signings for the next two seasons. Once they are done, we can look at signings for depth. Some positions do need more help than others but I’ll be expecting players from the academy to come in for areas that require depth.
I think if you have 9 or 10 regulars, the academy graduates can be carried.
So what are the first-team areas that need help?
I’d say goalkeeper, right-back, holding midfielder or #6, central midfielder or #8, right-wing and centre-forward. That’s six signings.
Should we sign six players this summer?
Will we sign six players this summer?
So we’re prioritizing certain areas?
What’s the budget?
Paul Hirst of the Times has reported that we could look at a net spend of £120m.
Can we get six players with that budget?
If we work smartly.
We haven’t in the past but I think we could cause the club just have to get it right now. I looked at City’s 2017/18 summer and January window, Chelsea’s 2020/21 window and Liverpool’s 18/19 window and 17/18 January window.
I believe we need something on those lines. It’s possible because our budget allows us to have a similar window. A new manager usually gets backed and a lot of players are on the end of their contracts with a few others likely to fetch a fee.
Can you do a quick recap of those windows?
Ederson - £34m, Bernardo Silva, £43m, Kyle Walker - £45m, Benjamin Mendy - £49m, Danilo - £26m and Aymeric Laporte - £57m. There are others like Douglas Luiz as well but you get the gist.
City were able to spend big because they have a big annual budget like United and many others had contracts expiring. Not dissimilar to United.
Virgil van Dijk - £75m, Fabinho - £39m, Naby Keita - £52m, Xherdan Shaqiri - £13m and Alisson - £65m.
Liverpool don’t usually have as big a budget as the others but the sale of Phillipe Coutinho helped massively during this period.
Hakim Ziyech - £33m, Timo Werner - £47m, Ben Chilwell - £50m, Malang Sarr - free, Thiago Silva - free, Kai Havertz - £72m and Edouard Mendy - £22m.
Chelsea tend to have a big budget but were also coming off the back of a transfer ban.
So what area are we prioritizing with the available budget?
Holding midfield, central midfield and centre-forward.
Because Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani are leaving on a free and Mason Greenwood’s unlikely to ever play for Manchester United again. Midfield's also the weakest area in the side.
How do we think this’ll go?
Let’s start with holding midfield and central midfield and go from there since they come as a pair.
- Hopeful: Aurélien Tchouameni and Fabian Ruiz.
- Realistic: Kalvin Phillips and Ruben Neves.
- Underwhelming: James Garner is back from loan and partnered alongside John McGinn.
- Outside shout: Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahima Sangare.
What about centre-forward?
- Hopeful: None because Erling Haaland’s moving to Manchester City and Harry Kane, Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski are too old, expensive or unlikely to join.
- Realistic: Darwin Núñez, Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Christopher Nkunku.
- Good but pricey: Victor Osimhen or Tammy Abraham.
- Underwhelming: Cristiano Ronaldo remains a starter.
- Outside shout: Gianluca Scamacca.
Will you not be over budget already?
Possibly. I think we’ll get two players for £120 but I’ve already listed three players who are leaving on a free and one whose contract is likely to be terminated. Some big wages will be off the books.
But you’re expecting some sales?
Who are we selling?
I think Anthony Martial’s going to leave the club. We’ll not fetch a big fee but I think it’ll be enough to allow us to a get a centre-forward. Jesse Lingard is another attacking player leaving on a free and Andreas Pereira should fetch a small fee.
What about the other areas you’ve highlighted?
Juan Mata is leaving on a free and we can’t depend on Anthony Elanga for the right-wing spot. Marcus Rashford doesn’t fancy playing on the right either.
Hopeful: The player Jadon Sancho was sold to the world as.
Realistic: Antony and Raphinha.
Underwhelming: Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri fight it out.
Outside shout: Michael Olise.
How are we funding this?
Marcus Rashford is unlikely to be sold even though it is a possibility. I think we have to look at the centre backs that are likely to leave the club since centre back is an area with starters and enough depth. Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe won’t fetch big fees but they should have enough in there as a unit to get us a right-winger.
But it’s still a stretch?
Yupp. Dean Henderson might have to leave. He’s also likely to fetch the club the biggest fee. This should be enough to generate the extra funds for a right-winger and a goalkeeper.
Goalkeeper’s a bit controversial?
It is but I think the club will have to eventually move on from David De Gea because he’s an archaic profile and there are some promising young goalkeepers on the market who’ll not cost a big fee. They could start as backups but should have enough to gel with the team over time.
Who are they?
They’re all outside shouts but two of them are ahead of David De Gea in the pecking order for the Spanish national team. David Raya and Robert Sanchez need some work but are ready to go straight in. Ivan Meslier’s not ready and would be a risk cause he’s not quite there yet but is someone that could potentially become a top goalkeeper.
So all that’s left is a right-back?
How are you doing this?
Hopeful: Sell Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Get Noussair Mazraoui and Jurrien Timber to follow Erik Ten Hag.
Is that all?
That is all.
Before rolling out my wishlist for the summer, I have a message for the fans who are really having a tough time due to the unexpected league position we are currently in and are spreading toxicity among the fanbase due to the bargain-basement performance of some individual players:
I know that times are tough for the club and especially for the fans who find their football club as a means of recreation and sometimes escape. I think we all here understand that for some of us here, the results and the performances mean the world to us. Optimistically speaking, United is going through a period of development, a period of rebuilding, it may have cost us a lot of things this season but the ‘darkest hour of the night comes just before the jubilant sunrise’. I sincerely urge the fans to believe, to support, to remain ‘United’, because that’s the least we can do at this hour for the club which made us all a family.
Enough of the inspirational talk, we drop back to the title of this article, or some may call it ‘the reality’.
I’ll be looking at some of the transfer targets and also try to analyse them including some of our own players in their respective positions, or how Ten Hag will bring out the best in them. I am going to state my opinions and the ‘wishlist’ classifying them by their positions.
The worst performing department this season. Conceding 52 (still counting) in a season is the characteristic of a mid-table side. This season has been an eye-opener for the club and before looking for players for any other position, the defense needs an overhaul. Players like Harry Maguire, Alex Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka massively underperformed this season compelling United to the gesture of a complete ‘overhaul’ in the department.
- Hopeful: Jules Kounde, Duje Caleta Car
- Realistic: Tyrell Malacia, Pau Torres, and pay much less than 50m euros for a right back
- Sale: Rangnick has hinted at the departure of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, I would say ship out Wan-Bissaka and Alex Telles too.
Micro-scoping the realistic targets, Tyrell Malacia is a player who Ten Hag tried but failed to sign for Ajax last season. But with his taking the wheel at United, multiple Dutch reports suggest Malacia will be heading to the Old Trafford for 20m euros. The Dutchman is one of the exciting youngsters in the Eredevisie having one goal and four assists from his left-back position. Ten Hag prefers a playing style where his full-backs are efficient in the final thirds and Tyrell Malacia suits the job perfectly.
Pau Torres is a defender who has been impressing pundits and fans alike since 2020, and no doubt with the incoming overhaul and a more bright project with Ten Hag, I don't see why the Spaniard should stay at Villarreal!
Regarding Wan-Bissaka, I hope the rumors surrounding him with Crystal Palace are true. Although we won’t get more than 25m euros for him, still his sale will be adding to the transfer budget.
The last hurray for Nemanja Matic and possibly Juan Mata this season. This department has underperformed much because of the ineffective tactical design employed by Rangnick and Ole alike. This midfield has potential and with the right player influx, it would be booming with the results, just need to change some of the composition.
- Hopeful: Aurelien Tchouameni, Frenkie De Jong, Declan Rice
- Realistic: Fabian Ruiz, James Ward-Prowse
- Sale: Matic, Mata and Pogba will be running out of their contracts, so expect a big summer for the midfield.
As many of the midfielders are leaving on a free, this is making room for a big name transfer there. Having watched United this season has made me think that this team needs a world-class player in the midfield for the build-up for their play instead of relying on the full-backs and forwards.
I am really optimistic that one of the players mentioned in my ‘Hopeful’ category will be gracing the Old Trafford next season.
Recent reports have made Ward-Prowse a possibility in the summer and also Prowsey might be thinking of being a part of a bigger project for he has done enough for Southampton over the seasons.
I am expecting three midfielders coming on, a holding, an attacking and a central one.
The ray of hope for this Machester United side. The attack doesn't need much change as it already has the firepower it should have. We will be getting familiar with the ‘energetic’ Europe League anthem next season, but this may potentially signal the departure for Cristiano Ronaldo as ‘Mr. Champions League’ has a very less probability of wanting to play the Europa League.
Hopeful: Alejandro Garnacho promotion, Jadon Sancho as he was at Dortmund.
Realistic: Darwin Nunez, Anthony Martial
Sale: Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo(no UCL, no Ronaldo possibility)
The promotion of Garnacho to the first-team squad is imminent after his impressive performances this season. I would like to see a return of Martial as he still has the potential to do himself justice. Nunez will depart Benfica as part of their overhaul procedure for a fee of around 50m euros, it will be a tough fight with other clubs but I think United will prevail.
With Cavani leaving and the potential departure of Ronaldo will make the signing of Darwin Nunez a priority.
Rashy has a chance of moving out next season owing to his mediocre performances and the hope for a new challenge.
Jadon Sancho will be a revelation, I have a feeling.
That’s all from me folks, keep steady!
I'm going to try and keep this “nice” and as PC as I can, try being the keyword.
I don’t care who we bring in as long as they have heart and the desire to win or at least act like they want to be there.
Pogba - The Pogba 2.0 experiment was as big of a flop as Pogba 1.0. We don’t need him, let him go. The only reason he signed for United was because of money. He wanted to play at Real Madrid the second he put the jersey on for the second time.
Maguire - Club v Country, country is Maguire’s priority and it shows. His England campaign was incredible, his United campaign..... well, since I’m being nice, wasn't good. Should he go, it's hard to say. If some team is crazy enough to pick up that massive contract then please go. If he does stay, he shouldn't be wearing the captain band. He isn't a captain. Sadly, I don’t know who deserves the band though.
Rashford - This one hurts, but let him go. His time has come and gone. The last two seasons have been bad, flat-out bad. His priority now is community service. That's fine, but he is a football player, not a politician.
AWB, Martial & Lingard - Go, please!
Ronaldo - Should go, but won't go because he $ells jer$ey$
Coach Ten Hag, are you sure you want to take this career-ending position? You have it pretty easy at Ajax.
I will try not to be biased towards Serie A signings here but there’s a limit to that. Being a United supporter in 2022, there’s being realistic, hopeful, idealistic and defeatist. I have been lingering around the defeatist towns this season while hiding my idealistic tendencies (aren’t we all?).
My feeling is that this summer onwards, United will (again, idealistic) look at players of the Nordi Mukiele or Jurrien Timber mould. By that, I’m refering to players that can play 3 different positions while having the technical proficiency to play those roles very well. That is because Erik ten Hag’s and Ralf Rangnick’s vision of the game revolves around players like that. While the ideas of numercial advantages across the pitch and space manipulation will be at the centre of the project, it will only happen if players of that mould are signed.
Fabian Ruiz is that player and I’d like him at United. Having seen him at Napoli for many years now, I believe people (especially in Italy!) underestimate his versatility and intelligence. From being a defensive midfielder to being a right or left-winger, he can do it all. Last season, I’d have said that Sergey Milinkovic-Savic is closest to Paul Pogba in terms of profile but Fabian is now quite close too. And I expect Pogba to leave (the evil in me would love it if he goes to City).
I don’t see Fabian as the regular DM (he can play the role but not in all phases of play). The defeatist tells me that United will be absolutely desperate to go bonkers for Declan Rice and while I don’t hate the player, that move will be an abomination considering the fee in question.
Honestly though, I don’t know who the perfect DM will be despite my liking for Aurelien Tchouameni. My agenda for Marcelo Brozovic will never end till he retires but he isn’t leaving Inter. Scouting a DM is not an easy art - especially if you don’t want to look at the mainstream options out there. That is what United will have to do - scout a DM perfectly because clubs out there know how desperate United are for one and the expensive ones will get extra-expensive for United. Keep an eye on Joao Palhinha.
I don’t think right-back will be an issue, if both Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot are coached well and aren’t played with the goal of forcefully hiding their weaknesses. If they want a versatile right-sided defender, Timber and Mukiele are excellent choices.
As for left-back, Borna Sosa links are really refreshing. He is everything Alex Telles dreams of being and more. Apart from being a fantastic crosser, he’s very good in the build-up phase too. If United don’t sign Sosa, they will regret it when he tears it up for Chelsea. Also, a fit Luke Shaw will be a massive asset for Erik ten Hag.
While a lot is being discussed on social media about how vital a striker is, Ten Hag has shown how well he can work with different striker profiles (Luis Enrique-esque). He may well make it work with Cristiano Ronaldo for a brief spell but he shouldn’t be in the first-team at all. My ideal choices are Patrik Schick and Gianluca Scamacca (even though Tammy Abraham and Victor Osimhen are perfect, I don’t see United paying up for them).
I’m bracing for some Andre Silva rumours but Schick and Scamacca are the maverick strikers that will be hugely popular at OT. Their profiles are not limited at all and they offer loads on and off the ball. Plus, Scamacca has sensational tattoos. I love him (*chef’s kiss*).