The most scrutinised job in football, perhaps in the world of sport, has a new incumbent.
Erik ten Hag was announced as the next Manchester United manager on April 21, agreeing a three-year contract with the option of a fourth to become the fifth permanent boss since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
The Ajax coach said he was “absolutely determined to develop a team capable of delivering the success [the fans] deserve” after accepting the challenge of succeeding where David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ultimately failed.
Key to his chances will be United’s work in the transfer market. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick, soon to become a club consultant, suggested after their 4-0 hammering by Liverpool that up to 10 new players could be signed in the next window.
Sporting News has looked over who those new faces might be, ranging from speculative and perhaps unattainable targets, a list of more realistic options, along with some players who might fancy following their old boss from Amsterdam to Salford.
United transfer targets: Who are the dream signings?
United were desperate to sign Bellingham in early 2020, even going as far as setting up a meeting with Alex Ferguson and giving the youngster a tour of their Carrington base to try to woo him. Ultimately, the midfielder decided his blossoming career was best served by going to Borussia Dortmund — and he was probably right.
The 18-year-old’s stock has continued to rise in the Bundesliga, so much so that he is now an England regular and already being touted for a future Ballon d’Or challenge. United would love another chance to sign him, but, with Erling Haaland already on his way out of Signal Iduna Park, it would be very difficult to persuade Dortmund to sell Bellingham in 2022.
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) March 23, 2022
It’s little coincidence that Leicester City’s rotten form earlier this season came after they lost Fofana to an awful injury suffered in pre-season. The 21-year-old is an imperious presence at the back, one the Foxes missed dearly.
Would Fofana like to play for United? Probably. However, he is in no hurry to force a move from Leicester, especially after only just returning to fitness and, with five years left on his contract, any suitors would have to pay a sizeable sum to get him.
Kane’s chances for a big transfer are getting slimmer. With Manchester City putting everything into signing Haaland and Tottenham’s demands likely to put off a lot of other clubs, opportunities away from north London are a little scarce for the striker, who will be 29 in July.
United have long-standing interest and would probably get close to Daniel Levy’s asking price, but any deal for Kane would deplete the majority of the Red Devils’ reported £200 million transfer budget. Plus, if they can’t offer Champions League football, would Kane even want to go?
95 – Harry Kane has scored 95 goals in 139 appearances away from home in the Premier League, becoming the competition’s all-time top scorer in away games despite making 104 fewer such appearances than second-place Wayne Rooney. Undaunted. pic.twitter.com/YUekCDniVH
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 16, 2022
Lewandowski is a more attainable option for United simply because he is likely to be made available: with a contract extension at Bayern not forthcoming, the Bundesliga leaders will be keen to sell rather than lose the striker for nothing next year. A fee of around £33m (€40m) has been mooted.
At 33, the Poland star is a short-term option but one who represents an immediate upgrade to United’s goal threat. Nevertheless. a move to Barcelona appears more likely.
The ultimate dream signing for a lot of United fans, Rice’s form in West Ham’s top-four challenge and run to the Europa League semi-finals has been impossible to ignore.
Still, a reported £150m asking price would be prohibitive even to a club of United’s resources, and the midfielder’s links to Chelsea — where he was a youth player alongside Mason Mount — make a Stamford Bridge switch feel like a more natural fit.
With Rudiger’s contract talks with Chelsea said to be stalling over the defender’s demands, it’s been suggested United could try to tempt him to move north.
The Germany international would undoubtedly offer an upgrade on much of United’s defensive options but, according to The Mirror, he has no interest in joining the Red Devils.
United transfer targets: Who are the realistic signings?
United are said to have scouted River Plate midfielder Fernandez in a game against Fortaleza, where he scored in a 2-0 victory.
The 21-year-old reportedly has a release clause of around £16.8m, which would make negotiations far simpler if the player wanted to join.
With 17 goals and 13 assists in 30 Bundesliga games this season, it’s been difficult not to take notice of RB Leipzig star Nkunku. Certainly, United have.
Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff has insisted they will not sell the attacking midfielder before next season, but if United make a concrete approach that tempts the player, the winds could change.
3 – Christopher Nkunku, who is the first RB Leipzig player to score a UEFA Champions League hat-trick, is only the second player to score one against Man City in the competition after Lionel Messi in October 2016. Footsteps. pic.twitter.com/WWnM3a3HI5
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 15, 2021
Benfica striker Nunez is expected to command plenty of interest in the transfer window, even though coach Nelson Verissimo may have put off some suitors by suggesting he could cost more than the €126m fee that took Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid in 2019.
United will be eager to sign a new centre-forward and, given the likely departures of Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial and perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo, they would be able to promise Nunez plenty of first-team football.
Trying to persuade a player to move between Leeds United and Manchester United has its pitfalls, but it’s happened plenty of times before: Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith all moved to Old Trafford in major deals, while the Red Devils sold Dan James to Leeds for £25m last August.
England international Phillips represents an upgrade on United’s deep-lying midfield options and, compared with someone like Rice, he would be an affordable target.
— Premier League (@premierleague) June 14, 2021
With Leicester’s progress stalling this season and Tielemans’ contract expiring in a year, the next window could be the Foxes’ chance to recoup a decent transfer fee.
The Belgium international represents everything United need in midfield: skill in possession, good distribution, and a refusal to shirk a challenge. He would be something of a bargain at around £40m.
Another player admired for some time at Old Trafford, Torres has helped Villarreal to Europa League glory and now the Champions League semi-finals. There is little left for him to prove in Castellon.
The defender’s release clause is reportedly set at €65m (£55.4m), but United could try to negotiate a lower fee. Torres would likely be interested in the move as he looks to cement his place in Luis Enrique’s Spain side ahead of the World Cup.
United transfer targets: Who could Ten Hag bring from Ajax?
At 22, Antony has already captivated Eredivisie and Champions League fans with some sparkling performances in the Ajax attack.
The Brazilian won’t be short on admirers but Ten Hag’s influence could tempt him to Old Trafford if an agreement can be reached.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) January 14, 2021
United’s midfield is crying out for a combative presence to screen a leaky defence, something Edson Alvarez does with aplomb.
Among the targets for that position, the Mexico international is probably the most affordable, which makes him a useful option amid a wider squad rebuild.
Mourinho sold Blind back to Ajax in 2018 as he couldn’t find a place for him in the team, but there is no question he would have been a useful option in the past four years.
As Ajax vice-captain, the 32-year-old could be tempted back to Old Trafford as someone who knows both the Red Devils’ world and the demands of the manager. He would make a valuable addition to the squad, even if only as a back-up.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) February 25, 2022
Gravenberch, 19, has long been admired in Europe and Bayern Munich are said to be trying to sign him for next season.
If that deal does not materialise, Gravenberch could be tempted to follow Ten Hag to United, where he would likely get plenty of first-team football in midfield — especially if Paul Pogba, as expected, leaves on a free transfer.
Another linked with Bayern Munich — and Barcelona, for that matter — Mazraoui is an exciting full-back who would provide competition for Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Crucially, his contract runs out at the end of the season, so United could sign him while diverting funds towards other targets.
Matthijs de Ligt
This one makes it to this section since De Ligt shone under Ten Hag at Ajax before joining Juventus in 2019.
Things haven’t gone all that smoothly in Turin: there are some doubts around De Ligt’s development given one or two erratic displays, and agent Mino Raiola didn’t help matters when he claimed last December that the defender wanted to leave. A fresh start under Ten Hag at United could be what he needs.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 27, 2021
Donny van de Beek
Okay, this is another stretch given Van de Beek is already a United player — although it would be easy to forget that given he’s started four league games for the club in two years.
When he returns from a loan spell at Everton, Van de Beek’s career will be at a crossroads. He was outstanding under Ten Hag at Ajax, though, so perhaps the new United manager will be the one to bring the best out of the midfielder again.