Few clubs will need to sell their sales pitch as successfully as Manchester United this summer.
United may struggle to form Erik ten Hag’s new-look squad in the coming months if they do not have the pulling power of Champions League football to offer. Their Champions League dreams were officially dashed after a 4-0 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion last Saturday, even though everyone knew they were already gone.
As a result, getting big-name players to join United this summer could be challenging. Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who is being pursued by the Reds, is just one name that John Murtough, Darren Fletcher, and Ten Hag may find difficult to persuade to make the transfer if Barcelona agrees to play ball.
Barcelona has qualified for the Champions League for next season, and De Jong would almost probably prefer to be strutting his stuff on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, rather than facing unknown clubs on Thursday evenings in the Europa Conference League. As a result, it is important that United lay the proper groundwork this summer in order to prepare for a Champions League campaign next year.
Last summer, United signed Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho, and Cristiano Ronaldo in order to mount a Best League title challenge and play in Europe’s premier club competition. Instead, they’ve gotten even further away. They are a long way from contending with Liverpool and Manchester City, and Ten Hag has been tasked with reducing the gap.
To close that gap, he needs new blood with world-class skills. United would get just that in De Jong.
He would be a step up from Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic, and Fred, but how will United persuade him to make the move without the negotiating power of Champions League football? Ten Hag’s prior working connection with him may be their most valuable asset, but it is critical that he, together with Murtough and Fletcher, offer an appealing and compelling ideology.
Ten Hag will embark on a long-term endeavor this summer. There will be no easy cure for the challenges United has faced this season.
It will take patience and, perhaps most importantly, the commitment to adhere to the plan regardless of whether or not United enters rough waters again. Despite the lack of Champions League football, United is one of the most powerful clubs in the world, and many players would leap at the chance to wear the legendary red shirt.
To be sure, convincing De Jong to leave Barcelona for Old Trafford will be difficult, but other players from weaker teams are likely to be prepared to join the club, even if it means putting their feet up on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening rather than putting their boots on. Make no mistake: a club of United’s status will always be appealing to players.
But United is now at a point where Ten Hag must be given the opportunity to put the club back on track, both on and off the field. If they do things right, the difficulties they may experience in convincing players to join the club this summer may not last long.