Old Trafford will be a busy place this summer with many new signings arriving as the Erik ten Hag era begins. And boy, do they need new players. It is incredible to think that Manchester United – who have won a record 20 League titles, 12 FA Cups, 5 League Cups, and 3 European Cup/UEFA Champions League – currently only have two centre midfielders on their books. Getting new faces in isn’t a priority - it is a matter of urgency.
Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata are all departing this summer and that leaves the Red Devils with only Fred and Scott McTominay to play in the heart of the team. And that just is not good enough. They need far more options in there to finally solve a shortcoming in the squad that has festered for several years.
Due to their lack of a proper centre midfielder, not seen since the days of Roy Keane, United have been brutally exposed by opposition teams. The good news for ten Hag is that there are many options out there, the best of which is Barcelona star Frankie de Jong. He must be United’s main target this summer. He spent years at Ajax with ten Hag as his coach and the two know each other very well. The issue is that De Jong is contracted to Barca for two more years and he has insisted he wishes to remain at the Nou Camp. Also, would he really want to join a club that is not playing in the Champions League next season?
The Spanish giants could be forced to sell the dynamic Dutchman due to their financial problems which are well documented. He cost them w whopping £75 million in 2019 and they will likely ask for more than that for the talented 25-year-old. He would be the box-office buy of the summer and would become a fans favourite straight away.
But if they fail to get him, all is not lost as other suitable options include Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante. The France international has just 1 year left on his Stamford Bridge deal and the Blues would hate to lose the abrasive midfielder for free next summer and so they could cash in now.
The 31-year-old is easily one of the best midfielders in the Premier League but he has had an injury plagued season and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel may be running out of patience with the former Leicester star. He only featured in 21 out of 38 league games last season due to various injuries ranging from a knee ligament issue to a pulled hamstring, but he is loved by the Blues fans and they would hate to see the workhorse leave. But they have plenty of midfield options what with Conor Gallagher returning from his successful loan spell at Crystal Palace and they have been linked with West Ham’s Declan Rice too. Indeed, Rice could also do a job at Old Trafford and the Hammers would find it very hard to convince the England man to hang around if United came calling. West Ham boss David Moyes values 23-year-old at £100 million – it is an astronomical fee and one that United may need to offer to improve their squad.
A far more affordable option could be Ruben Neves from Wolves. The Portuguese midfielder was a target for former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer two years ago and they tried to get him for £30 million but the offer was turned down. He is worth double that now and he could be the man they turn to. Rather than blow a large chunk of their transfer budget on Rice or de Jong, the arrival of Neves would allow ten Hag to strengthen other areas of the squad.
There are others being linked to Old Trafford from Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni but Yves Bissouma - another current Premier League star - could certainly do a job. He has been superb for Brighton and was the star of the show when they beat United 4-0 at the Amex Stadium.
Ten Hag could even give Donny van de Beek a run to see how he fares. He had been frozen out of the squad and spent the second half of the season on loan at Everton. But the pair worked together at Ajax and ten Hag could save millions by giving him a chance while they also have youngster James Garner returning from loan from Nottingham Forest whom he helped gain promotion to the Premier League with some brilliant displays.
Plenty of options then, but the coach and the board must identify their targets and get them in as soon as possible to allow them time to bed in to their new surroundings. A full pre-season will be needed with their new team mates and to adopt a new style of play. If ten Hag is given time and support, United might just be dark horses next season.