Despite needing a strong start to Erik ten Hag’s first summer transfer window, Manchester United has yet to make any signings this summer. With Ten Hag’s first preseason approaching, the team faces a pivotal month before the start of the Premier League season on August 6.
If Manchester United can’t find momentum in the transfer market the first season for Ten Hag as manager will undoubtedly be difficult. Despite the club’s ambitions of returning to the Champions League, that goal will be impossible to reach without a more successful July and August.
Manchester United’s Start to the Transfer Window
In a summer where bringing in new players to support Ten Hag’s plan for the team was vital, the most notable story for Manchester United this transfer window has been the players departing the club. Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, and others are all leaving the team this summer.
Now, after two weeks with the summer transfer window formally open, and no signings having been made, Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly thought about leaving the team. Dean Henderson, once thought to be the successor to David de Gea as the team’s goalkeeper, has already agreed to leave the team on loan.
The result is a worse squad than the one Manchester United finished last season with, especially in midfield, which was already the team’s weakest position. Last season the club finished 13 points behind fourth-place Tottenham, and Manchester United are no closer to finishing in a top-four Champions League qualifying position than they were at the start of the summer. In fact, they are almost certainly farther away.
Nearly every other transfer for Manchester United has reportedly been delayed by ongoing negotiations for Frenkie de Jong. The Barcelona midfielder is Ten Hag’s most important transfer target, but negotiations between Manchester United and Barcelona have been difficult and it is unclear if De Jong even wants to leave Spain.
Manchester United has gained a bad reputation over the last several years, often being perceived as a club that overpays for players and has a disorganized transfer strategy. A change in the leadership of the club, both at the managerial and board of directors levels, was supposed to remedy the problem.
So far, the same issues have persisted this summer. The club had their initial bid for De Jong rejected, then took a week to respond with another offer which is still well below Barcelona’s asking price.
If Manchester United feel Barcelona’s asking price is unfair, then they must move on to other targets. Ruben Neves has been discussed as an alternative in the past, as has Yves Bissouma. However, Bissouma has already completed a move to Tottenham this summer, and there are other clubs outside of Manchester United interested in Neves.
Just a few years ago, Manchester United was unable to sign Jadon Sancho during the summer transfer window and had to wait an entire season until they signed the forward the next summer. Sancho’s situation was remarkably similar to the way the De Jong negotiations are playing out right now.
At the time, Borussia Dortmund had a clear valuation of Sancho. United made several offers which weren’t particularly close to what Dortmund would accept, and Dortmund, who didn’t need to agree to a transfer, kept Sancho for the season. Manchester United was left with almost no time to find alternatives and didn’t sign a player at their most vital position of need during the transfer window.
The new leadership at Manchester United wants to change how the team operates on the transfer market, and improve the club’s reputation. However, refusing to even seriously explore alternatives to De Jong, or discuss or negotiate other transfers the team needs to complete this summer, is a repetition of the same mistakes made for nearly the last decade.
If De Jong is the only option the club feels would make sense for Ten Hag, then they’ve already made the mistake of letting that information become public. If making a transfer for a different player would work then it doesn’t make sense for the club not to pursue other options; at the minimum, it could help add leverage in negotiations with Barcelona.
Manchester United need to sign multiple midfielders this summer, but it is far from their only position of need. The team still most likely needs to sign a center-back, winger, and possibly a center-forward if Ronaldo departs the club.
It is already almost the last week of June, and Manchester United has yet to make any serious progress on any transfer moves. The club risks entering the season with a squad lacking depth at multiple positions.
What this Could Mean for Ten Hag’s First Season
Erik Ten Hag faces a crucial first season at Manchester United. He must implement his system at the club, while also showing progress at the start of the team’s rebuild in order to make it easier for the team to sign players in future transfer windows to strengthen the squad.
The midfield has been one of the areas where Manchester United has been inconsistent in recent years, and most of the players who have left the club this summer played roles for the team in the midfield last season. If the team can not add to this position group ahead of the season, probably with more than one player, Ten Hag will have difficulty finding success in his first season in charge.
Beyond the midfield, the team must add depth during the rest of the transfer window. Manchester United will again play in European competition this season, in addition to the Premier League, FA Cup, and EFL Cup. A lack of depth will make it impossible for the club to compete to win a trophy next year.
This summer Manchester United faced the challenge of beginning a rebuild while also changing the way the team approached the transfer market. The first month of the summer transfer window has not gone the way the club’s leadership would have wanted it to, and the rest of the summer will determine the direction the club takes next season, and possibly beyond.