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Manchester United are set to be more ruthless as they look ahead to summer transfer window

Manchester Evening News logo Manchester Evening News 30/01/2023 Samuel Luckhurst

The question posed to Erik ten Hag on Friday acknowledged it “looks unlikely there'll be any more signings before the window closes”. Ten Hag took that as an invitation to turn the screw.

“But also in the coming days if we had the opportunity I would go for it - but that’s not also up to me,” he admitted. “That’s also clear.

“I think this club always has to have the approach that every day you have to get better so if there are opportunities to get better then you have to strike.”

Also read: United finalising list of players to sell

Strike for a striker? That is the priority for Manchester United in the summer. Upgrading Wout Weghorst’s Cheshire residency from rental to buying would not wash with Ten Hag or supporters preparing to walk down Wembley Way for a cup final for the first time in nearly five years.

Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen are of interest to United while Ten Hag is an admirer of Goncalo Ramos and Mohammed Kudus. Kane and Osimhen could command nine-figure fees and the latter's majestic self-served volley in Napoli's win over Roma on Sunday night went viral.

Ramos is at Benfica, with enough money to open a bank from the prospects they have sold, while Kudus is at Ajax, who negotiated an £85.51 million fee from United for Antony. A new striker alone would likely equal or surpass the investment in Antony.

Ten Hag has also discussed a second approach for Frenkie de Jong, emboldened by Barcelona’s ongoing financial uncertainty and his protege’s private assurance he would have joined United but for the insurmountable obstacle of his wage deferral.

Ten Hag would also encourage a compelling pitch to Jude Bellingham, despite the fierce competition. De Jong would fetch the best part of £100m and Bellingham is valued at nine figures. Ryan Gravenberch has gone so far backwards at Bayern Munich he was omitted from the Netherlands World Cup squad and would be cost-efficient. He was wanted by Ten Hag in the summer.

In a winter window where £654.2m has been spent by clubs in the five elite European leagues, Premier League clubs are responsible for around £538m. The most expensive transfers involving La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 clubs have been sales to Premier League clubs.

Those who live in a parallel universe of Football Manager or Fifa may wonder why United have been so restrained this month. They are one of the Premier League's impecunious clubs, restricted to loans after a record summer spree of £225.4m. Sources described the combined £155.85m signings of Casemiro and Antony as "bankrolled". Ie. United panicked after the generational nadir at Brentford on August 13.

The club's owners, the Glazer family, are finally prepared to end their occupation and the team is performing, so there are few incentives to use the company credit card mid-season. United also owe clubs an eye-watering £306.77m in transfer fees. In 2013, United owed £34m.

Chelsea's scattergun approach of signing anyone linked with a 'big six' club was inevitable with the team in mid-table under a manager only appointed in September. Arsenal were active in the summer, spending over £100m, and are attempting to sign Moises Caicedo for around £70m. Last month, they lodged a borrowing agreement that would allow them to loan up to £70m.

Plenty of United fans online bristled over Cody Gakpo's switch from PSV Eindhoven to Liverpool yet a month into his Anfield career he is still without a goal and Liverpool are out of the FA Cup. United are 10 points better off their rivals in the Premier League and the Dutch forward they loaned in has actually scored.

Uefa's new sustainability rules that have replaced financial fair play will force United, infamously inept at selling, to be far more proactive in the seller's market than in previous years. Club figures have already indicated investment in a new midfielder would have to come through player sales.

Their only permanent sales last summer were Andreas Pereira and James Garner; both had been out on loan so were unscathed from the wreckage of United's season.

United should be in a position of strength; they are auspiciously placed to qualify for the Champions League and a new plinth could be required in the museum. Last year, no United player was a harder sell than Cristiano Ronaldo, their player of the year.

The chasm between Arsenal and United eight days ago was not reflected in the scoreline but it was in the teams' performances. Ten Hag has improved certain players but they have hit an unbreakable ceiling.

Time is a great healer and Aaron Wan-Bissaka has repaired his reputation over the last month though he still lacks key attributes a right-back Ten Hag demands. United were prepared to sell him last year.

Now United have a specialist defensive midfielder - and the best around - in Casemiro, Scott McTominay has been found out. Christian Eriksen was signed by Ten Hag and Fred had his contract extended last month, so McTominay is the penny teetering over the edge in the arcade. A 26-year-old United academy graduate with international pedigree, McTominay would appeal to several Premier League clubs.

Dean Henderson turns 26 in March and, as a Premier League-proven 'keeper and England international, is a £40m asset. United have kicked the can down the road too often with Henderson and recently opened dialogue with David de Gea about a renewal. So they have to cash in on Henderson.

Something drastic would have to develop for Harry Maguire to regain his status as a United starter although Ten Hag objected to the suggestion he was fifth-choice centre-back.

Maguire's suspension for the League Cup semi-final first leg at Nottingham Forest flew so far under the radar the competition's own website did not list his unavailability. He may have to seek a move 12 months ahead of the European Championship.

Anthony Elanga and Facundo Pellistri may be marginalised by Amad's return from Sunderland in the summer, while the next four months are critical for Jadon Sancho. United have to be ruthless with Anthony Martial, too.

A new striker is essential, which automatically downgrades Martial from a regular to a rotational role. He has missed 15 weeks of this season through four separate injuries and is halfway through his eighth season with United. He has only truly excelled in two of them.

There is also the forgettable loan duo of Alex Telles and Eric Bailly. Telles injured his knee at the World Cup and has not played since while Bailly is currently serving a seven-match ban that hospitalised Hyeres 83 player Almike Moussa N’Diaye.

Bailly has already spent two spells on the sidelines through injury and his career in France is mirroring his six years with United: play, get injured or get sent off. Repeat.

Marseille are obliged to sign Bailly on two conditions and they are holding up their end of the bargain to qualify for the Champions League, sitting third in Ligue 1. Bailly is not; he has played six times in the league.

Few clubs are likely to strike for him.



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