Erik ten Hag has overseen major change in his debut season at Manchester United and a sensible approach to transfer business has been one of his biggest strengths.
United spent over £200million last summer but did so with a plan that has been absent for several years. Ten Hag laid out which areas of the squad needed improving, and while he did not always get his way – months were spent trying to pry Frenkie De Jong away from Barcelona – contingencies were in place to ensure someone came in and improved the team.
Despite concerns over who will cash the cheques, the club will likely spend big again ahead of next season, with the Dutchman keen to build on an encouraging first year at Old Trafford. Those priority positions have been planned, and lists of potential options detailed so as not to be left high and dry.
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It is this meticulous approach to an aggressive but considered window that makes reports linking United with Neymar all the more surprising. The Brazilian reportedly wants out of Paris Saint-German, and their fans seemingly want him gone too if videos of them surrounding his house are anything to go by.
Said reports have ranged from Neymar’s interest in the Premier League to Casemiro even being a middle-man in bringing him to Old Trafford. But amid the media storm, Sky Sports report that United are merely one of several clubs who have been offered the PSG star.
The French giants are willing to offload both Neymar and Messi – whose contract expires – this summer as part of a culture reset. For years they have signed the superstars, but they are no closer to a Champions League trophy for it.
The report goes on to stress that Neymar is not a United target, and nor should he be so soon after the fallout from Cristiano Ronaldo, who left United in disgrace midway through this season after publicly criticising the club and Ten Hag in an interview with Piers Morgan.
Ronaldo’s return to United in 2021 was billed as a return to the glory days, but the Portuguese international caused more harm than good in the 18 months that followed.
Ability was never the issue, and 24 goals in his first season back would testify to that. But having a player whose reputation somewhat transcended the club was never going to work, and the five months of his second campaign back proved it.
As with all elite modern managers now, Ten Hag’s success is reliant on a system more than any one player. And that system – high pressing and dynamic forward play – did not suit Ronaldo, who was often dropped to the bench.
“I think it is justified [his reputation] because he has achieved a lot in his career,” Ten Hag said of Ronaldo in November. “I don’t have to mention. It is so brilliant. But he has to be aware that you get judged by the moment and how you are acting today. Especially in top sport, it is about today – it is not about age or about reputation.”
Links with Neymar only make that point more pertinent: reputation and past glory is nothing if you don’t fit the system.
A move for Neymar this summer is very unlikely, but a few years ago that may not have been the case. Ronaldo’s return to M16 was the result of egos being too involved in United’s transfer processes, but those have now either left the club or have far less say in where the money goes.
A superstar in a position that United already have well covered is the last thing Ten Hag needs, and the fallout from Cristiano Ronaldo’s interview with Piers Morgan left the United manager with the battle scars to prove it.