COMMENT: It’s an opportunity clearly missed… or so it seems. The top brass at Manchester United choosing to sit back and allow this transfer window to pass them by…
Whatever the reason, it’s clear the management are stuck. At least that’s what we see publicly. They’re at a standstill. The search for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s successor is taking new turns. Transfer policy has suddenly been altered. And the place appears to be in some sort of suspended reality.
Anthony Martial could leave. But now he can’t. Ditto Dean Henderson. The summer battle to convince Atletico Madrid to part with Kieran Trippier now lost to Newcastle United. The availability of a centre-forward as talented as Dusan Vlahovic handed over to Arsenal and Tottenham. The dire need for a midfield addition, so lobbied by Solskjaer over the summer, now ignored for a second consecutive transfer window…
It was a United rebuild that had some momentum about it. One which you could see where management wanted to improve – and why. From the new centre-half in Rapha Varane. To the pace and width of Jadon Sancho. And the pure finishing ability of Cristiano Ronaldo. There was a method to it. A transfer policy you could understand. An approach which suggested United were on the way to building something special.
But now it’s static. It’s all ground to a halt. Even the decisive move to approach Mauricio Pochettino immediately after Solskjaer’s dismissal now replaced by uncertainty and indecision. Talk of contact with Simone Inzaghi, of Inter Milan, has emerged. Ralf Rangnick, meanwhile, is lobbying for Ajax’s Erik ten Hag. And with this sudden change, so goes transfer policy. Players potentially identified by Pochettino for next season, now put on the backburner as other candidates are considered beyond the PSG coach.
It does look a mess. But while such perception is understandable, there remains a plan in place. This column informed last week that Pochettino remains the priority. That talk of Inzaghi, Ten Hag… even Ruben Amorim, of Sporting CP, was the stuff of agents. Such names have been discussed inside the board room. But only as alternatives. And while Rangnick’s opinion will be considered, he’s more a sounding board than a decision maker. Which also runs into transfer policy…
Yes, it does appear static. But John Murtough, the club’s football director, and his No2 Darren Fletcher do have names and positions in mind – and all are being pursued. Indeed, Jorge Mendes’ visit to United last week wasn’t only about Cristiano Ronaldo. And we can also confirm the stopover of Barcelona directors Mateu Alemany and Ferran Reverter last month didn’t only include the Blue half of Manchester.
Fletcher (L) and Chris Armas oversee pre-match warm-up
But, as our source insisted, the priority at this stage is to ease any flux around Rangnick and to give him as much support as possible. There’s a clear understanding that beyond the name in the dugout. Beyond the figures of any contract offer. Champions League qualification, above all else, will assist Murtough and co in convincing those season-defining players to make the move to Old Trafford.
Below the first team the work remains at full throttle. January and February traditionally a time in the Premier League for foreign talent to get their chance to chase a contract on English soil. And United are no exception. In the coming weeks, Slask Wroclaw prospect Karol Borys will arrive from Poland to test with the club’s academy. As will IF Brommapojkarna teen Lucas Bergvall. And more will follow from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The arrival of Rangnick and his ideas not knocking the faith Murtough has in the scouting team he’s been quietly building out. And such trust is appreciated by those on the ground.
So the club is moving forward. There is a plan in place and being followed. Though there cannot be any denying the first-half of this season has knocked those in charge off their stride.
Changes in the shopping list are being made. Where one position was a priority under Solskjaer, now it’s in a holding pattern. Where certain characteristics were targeted, now a rethink is imposed. Just consider United’s attempt to bring Idrissa Gueye back to England from PSG in July. Yet now the focus on midfield is the more physical presence of Declan Rice of West Ham.
The details have changed, but not the objective. The project remains. And this includes Rangnick getting to June and leaving the new manager with a Champions League campaign to tackle.
Under the German, the team has been underwhelming. The results so-so. But United, as of Saturday evening, were back inside the top four. They remain alive in the FA Cup and face a struggling Atletico Madrid in the Champions League round of 16. At least on paper, this season can be rescued.
And as it stands, it’ll be achieved with this current squad. But the message from inside the camp is: don’t take a quiet market this month as a sign of inactivity. This window may be allowed to pass by, but the original agreed rebuild at Manchester United remains the priority.
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