They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they probably had some of the bricks laid in just a few weeks, with Manchester United yet to make another move in the transfer window.
It was an alarmingly slow start to a summer that would herald yet another major rebuild at United. Erik ten Hag has been in the hot seat for over a month, but he hasn’t gotten any new additions yet, leading to jealous stares from United fans at Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham, who have all grown significantly stronger already. .
No need to panic yet. Unlike the three clubs who have all dealt with managers who no doubt had long-standing plans for exactly what they wanted to add to their roster this summer, United have seen many changes in coaching positions in recent weeks, as well as along the club hierarchy. It’s no surprise that things have been slow as a result.
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United are at least aiming for the right targets, even if they failed to hit them. The fact that they were interested in Darwin Nunez before Liverpool won the race with ease shows that the caliber of the player they aspire to remains high despite their current low status. Another such target is Frenkie de Jong.
Clearly Ten Hag has identified his compatriot as the perfect player to help imprint his identity on his new squad quickly and it would be quite a blow for United, with De Jong showing passing range, elegance on the ball and tactical acumen that none of their other midfielders have. It would be such a great signing that when he first emerged as a target, it looked like a castle in the air.
United’s lack of Champions League football hardly makes them an attractive prospect for such a talented player, despite the lure of teaming up with Ten Hag again, and wouldn’t better teams be interested if he were available? But as the weeks went by, it seemed increasingly likely that United would actually make it.
Barcelona look set on sacrificing a player who isn’t a better fit for the club to spend money they don’t have to get another aging megastar and De Jong may have no choice but to leave. No other club have shown any interest to date, with the obvious choice in Manchester City to focus their efforts on Kalvin Phillips instead.
It is noteworthy that United seem to have a clear chance of bringing in a player who is far above their ranks. But the longer the negotiations go on, the more dangerous the game becomes.
One downside seems to be that while United are the only option for De Jong, he has already made it clear several times that he wants to stay at the Camp Nou, even if the Catalans want to cash in. possibly, it has inevitably led to protracted discussions.
With United seemingly incapable of working on multiple deals at once, the longer they continue to prioritize De Jong, the longer it will take them to have the other players Ten Hag needs and the more opportunities they will pass up. A 25-year-old type midfielder is an important addition, especially with how the new manager wants his teams to play, but is it just as important as the defensive midfielder they’ve needed for years? As strikers, should they complement their only current option in Cristiano Ronaldo? Reinforce a terrible rear guard as a central defender?
We’ve been here before. It took United three tries to get Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and the two windows in which they failed allowed the talks to go on and have an impact on their other summer activities. In 2020 they managed to bring in Donny van de Beek, but they held on to Sancho so much that they ran out of signatures until the deadline of the day when they brought in Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles and Facundo Pellistri. None of them were huge successes.
Another such window would put Ten Hag at such a disadvantage as he not only has to fortify various areas but also pierce his side in complicated tactics and matchday instructions. If the new boss is not allowed to spend much time with his team on the training field, that almost guarantees a slow start to the season.
Attracting De Jong would certainly be worth the wait, but United are well aware of the danger of not getting the move done as quickly as possible. When it comes down to it, they’ll have to show the guts to walk away this time.