The key to a successful transfer strategy is planning. Manchester United often looks to the next window once one closes, creating a long list of potential targets in their bespoke database system.
On summers when United have planned well, they do their business early and effectively. Last year they added Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane to their squad after long chases and admitted a flaw in their approach to spontaneously switch for Cristiano Ronaldo.
On summers when United have planned poorly, they do business in a mad rush. A year ago they signed four players on deadline day in Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, Amad and Facundo Pellistri, none of whom was really successful.
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The test will be even tougher this summer when Erik ten Hag’s regime begins and the club want to prove he’s changed for the better by stepping in as early as possible so transfer planning can be accelerated.
Earlier this week, United’s manager-in-waiting met with club officials in Amsterdam for a recruitment meeting, where he was joined by Mitchell Van der Gaag and Steve McClaren, two men who were set to join his backroom staff at Old Trafford.
Midfield options have undoubtedly been high on their agenda, with club sources previously admitting it is their “biggest problem” ahead of the summer window.
The departure of Paul Pogba, coupled with the unexpected departure of Nemanja Matic, has further increased the need for at least one new midfielder, while two would be preferred, one who is a defensive specialist and another who can help them play games better check.
United are considering a potential deal for Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong and Ten Hag are said to have reached out to the player’s agent Ali Dursun to assess whether De Jong would be willing to join his project.
The club have also been working on a move from Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips to De Jong. Leeds were hoping to hold on to the 26-year-old for another year but they are now the favorites to relegate with just two games left.
With the summer budget set to be heavily influenced by player sales, it’s still difficult to plan a precise plan of action for the first few weeks of the summer, but no matter what happens, it’s clear that signing a defensive midfield specialist needs to be a priority.
The prospect of a Ten Hag-De Jong reunion has excited many fans and while he would be an excellent addition, he’s still not the type of midfielder United need most.
Worst-case scenario, United could just have a new midfielder this summer, plus returnees Donny van de Beek and James Garner, and if that were the case they would have to make amends next year instead.
In the long run, however, it could work to their advantage.
While De Jong would make a statement this summer, an even clearer statement of intent would come if they were able to lure teenage sensation Jude Bellingham to the club.
United had already tried to sign the 18-year-old before moving to Germany, but two years ago he turned down an offer because he saw a much clearer promotion plan in the Bundesliga.
It certainly paid off as Bellingham shone in the Champions League for his new side and established himself as a regular England international.
It’s easy at times to assume just how good Bellingham is for his age and he remains one of the most exciting midfielders in world football, perhaps only truly rivaled for his position by Pedri at Barcelona and Eduardo Camavinga at Real Madrid.
The teenage talent revealed this week that he has no plans to leave Dortmund for at least another year as the Bundesliga side are unlikely to part ways with both him and Erling Haaland in the same window.
“The only future I think about is the next game for Dortmund,” he told Ruhr Nachrichten BVB. “I’m looking forward to next season. I’m looking forward to finally getting started. “But yeah, I’ll be here next season and I’ll be ready.”
However, that doesn’t mean he won’t be available in a year’s time when United may still be looking for a midfielder who can help them get a better grip on games.
As such, United may well still have a chance of finally enticing Bellingham to Old Trafford, with the schedule of their own long-term rebuilding perhaps ideally overlapping with the teenager’s own career plans.
The challenge is to make sure they have a project worth getting involved with in a year’s time.