Manchester United is about to embark on a whirlwind few months in which they hope to qualify for the Champions League, recruit a manager to replace Ralf Rangnick, and make the most of the summer transfer market.
Manchester United anticipates another busy summer nine years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
The Red Devils, on the other hand, have more work to do than ever before. The Old Trafford hierarchy must find a new manager to replace interim boss Ralf Rangnick and lead United into the next era as they aim to pip Arsenal to Champions League participation by finishing fourth in the Premier League.
Then, with Rangnick serving as a consultant for the club, newly-appointed chief executive Richard Arnold must begin to deliver on his promise while navigating a dramatic summer transfer market alongside football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher. Succeeding in all of those things will undoubtedly be a difficult assignment, but one that the self-proclaimed biggest club in the world should cherish as they attempt to reclaim their place at the top of world football.
But who will be their next boss? Who will they sign with? The March international break begins after a weekend of FA Cup competition in which United did not participate. With the major questions at Old Trafford still unanswered, here’s Mirror Football’s roadmap for the Red Devils’ huge makeover.
The new manager
There can only be one place to begin: the dugout. United have known for four months that they will need a new manager by June 1 after sacking club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November – but no choice has been made. Mauricio Pochettino was the early favorite, with his experience at Tottenham Hotspur serving as his main selling point. Then followed international coaches, Roberto Mancini and Luis Enrique, before the instability at Chelsea pushed Thomas Tuchel to the top of the list.
However, according to recent sources, Rangnick’s preferred option – aside from himself – is Ajax’s Erik ten Hag. The 52-year-rise old’s to the top ranks of coaching has largely gone unnoticed by the Red Devils, which may be indicative of their current plight. Spells with Go Ahead Eagles, Bayern Munich’s reserves, and Utrecht led him to Amsterdam, where he hasn’t looked back.
Ten Hag has become the face of one of Europe’s most recognized clubs, retaining Ajax’s position as a ball-dominant, forward-thinking squad dedicated to trusting young players after two Eredivisie titles and a Champions League semi-final. Does this sound familiar? Following their departure from the Champions League this season and the turmoil that led to the resignation of the director of football Marc Overmars, all indications point to a one-way flight from Amsterdam to Manchester.
Ten Hag would be tasked with putting his contemporary ideology on a group of players that appear to be lost, similar to the brief Rangnick was given in December. Ten Hag, on the other hand, would have a lot better chance than the famed Germain coach if given the right tools and time. But, more crucially, United cannot afford to lose out on what many believe will be the next truly great manager, just as they did with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
Anyone who has seen the Red Devils for more than a half of football recently knows that a new manager will not solve anything unless the roster is shaken up. And, before anyone can be signed, United must approve some exits. The first is the club’s record signing, Paul Pogba, who appears to be nearing the conclusion of his contract and his second stint with the club after failing to win a major championship.
Similar to Pogba, fellow academy graduate Jesse Lingard’s 22-year history with the Red Devils is destined to end on a bitter note. Edinson Cavani’s contract expires on the same date as Cavani’s. Fourth-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant and devoted servant Juan Mata, who will definitely be remembered for his achievements on and off the field, join the trio.
Then there are those who could be let go from their current contracts, with a whole slew of people in jeopardy. Starting at the back, Dean Henderson’s dreams of becoming England’s No.1 are a pipe dream if he stays the back-up to David de Gea, which will almost certainly necessitate a summer transfer. The fit-again Phil Jones would still benefit from a fresh start, having gone close to joining Bordeaux in the January transfer window, and Eric Bailly, who has been linked with a reunion with Jose Mourinho at Roma, is another who looks ready for pastures new.
Then there’s Axel Tuanzebe, who appears to be in desperate need of a change of scenery after what appears to be a failed loan transfer to Napoli. And, while Victor Lindelof and his teammates – with the exception of Raphael Varane – are frequently chastised by fans, it’s difficult to envision a more complete defensive overhaul.
It’s also unclear whether Brandon Williams and Donny van de Beek’s loan moves to Norwich City and Everton would put them in demand. Ten Hag’s arrival would undoubtedly benefit Van de Beek, who rose to prominence under the Dutch coach. Speaking of midfielders, Nemanja Matic’s experience – albeit outstanding – appears to be the only thing keeping him around, while Andreas Pereira wants to return to Brazil on a permanent basis after a successful stint with Flamengo.
Anthony Martial is another player who would almost certainly prefer to stay away unless a new manager is brave enough to give him a chance, having failed to deliver on his £36 million price tag following an electrifying start to life at Old Trafford. So, with all of those probable departures leaving the club depleted in practically every aspect, the Red Devils will once again scout the transfer market for a savior.
Despite all of the doom and gloom, this is when things start to get interesting. Ten Hag, like any other manager tasked with rebuilding a major club, will require a large transfer budget and a top-tier scouting team. Only the former has been true in recent years, but with Rangnick’s eye for a player and the directorial tandem of Murtough and Fletcher having another year under their belts, there’s a glimmer of hope that recruitment will improve this time.
Right-back is an area in desperate need of improvement, with neither Aaron Wan-Bissaka nor Diogo Dalot impressing at Old Trafford. Ten Hag may hook up with out-of-contract Ajax star Noussair Mazraoui, but he appears to be heading to Barcelona or Bayern Munich, therefore Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey has emerged as many supporters’ choice.
The 21-year-old has established himself as one of the Premier League’s brightest defensive talents after quitting his 12-year relationship with Chelsea in January 2020, and he is eagerly expecting his first senior England call-up. While injuries ruined his first full season on the south coast, the right-back has been in fine form this season, demonstrating his attacking prowess in Graham Potter’s fluid, easy-to-follow style.
Lamptey is undoubtedly playing the style of football that United fans like to see, frequently playing as a wing-back and displaying his advanced thinking, as evidenced by 1.35 vital passes per game in the Premier League. While the Chelsea product has room for growth defensively, as do some of the world’s greatest full-backs, he would be a wise addition.
Declan Rice, who joins a slew of talented English players at the club, is largely viewed as the right match for the Red Devils’ most troublesome position – defensive midfield. Although his role at West Ham has evolved beyond just screening the backline, the England stalwart is nothing short of a midfield titan with the demeanor of a future Three Lions captain both on and off the field.
Rice’s days at the London Stadium appear to be coming to an end, with David Moyes’ side slipping out of Champions League contention after a fantastic Europa League run. Although it would take more than £100 million to entice him away, Chelsea’s financial difficulties, as well as Manchester City’s transfer priorities, indicate that it is time for United to strike – not to mention Rice’s fondness for playing at the Theatre of Dreams.
“I believe every time I come to Old Trafford, I’ve always stated it’s one of my favorite places to play,” he remarked after West Ham’s 1-0 loss there in January. “It’s a beautiful stadium, and you’re up against the top competition. Because of the history of this stadium, you always want to do well and play well when you come here.”
The Red Devils must improve their midfield not only defensively, but also offensively. With the departures of Pogba, Mata, and Lingard, even the return of loanees Van de Beek and James Garner would leave them light in the middle of the field. As Ajax’s Ryan Gravenberch appears to have turned down a transfer to join Bayern, Ten Hag could seek counsel from Rangnick and bring in RB Leipzig dynamo Amadou Haidara.
When he was the sporting director of Red Bull’s football system, the Mali international looked ready for the step up to the Premier League and was signed twice by United’s interim manager. Rangy and with a goal-scoring eye, 24-year-old Haidara would be great alongside Rice in big games, forming a better version of Scott McTominay and Fred.
Finally, the Red Devils require a new striker urgently. While Erling Haaland would be a fantastic signing and Harry Kane is a more-than-proven marksman, it would take a lot of money to lure either of them away from their clubs, especially because they’ll be competing for a spot alongside Ronaldo – as long as he remains.
With both the future and the present in mind, United would be well to look to Portugal, where many of their bitter rivals’ best players built their reputations before migrating to England. While Liverpool has two of Porto’s top exports in Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota, Manchester City has demonstrated that Benfica is a gold mine for elite-level talent. Darwin Nunez, who has four of their products, is the next on the conveyor line and appears to be set for a move to Europe’s top-five divisions this summer.
The Uruguayan has 20 league goals this season, more than Ronaldo, Rashford, Cavani, and Martial combined, and his goals-per-game ratio is nearly double that of United’s No.7. Nunez can also generate chances for teammates from his central position, with an average of 1.4 chances created per 90 minutes and 1.9 dribbles.
Ten Hag is well aware of the 22-year-abilities, old’s having scored the game-winning goal that knocked Ajax out of the Champions League in the round of 16. The Red Devils must not waste time in identifying Ronaldo’s successor – or perhaps an upgrade – since they are still in the running for a future spot.
In conclusion, United’s recruiting in recent years has been woefully inadequate, resulting in the most costly squad ever constructed with not a single medal to show for it. After Solskjaer’s departure, the reset button has already been pressed, but will the new course be any better? Or, if they win the following game, they might be able to avoid spending ten years without a league title. We’ll simply have to wait and see what happens.