Erik ten Hag wants new striker but Man Utd’s summer of doubt is stalling rebuild

Manager Erik ten Hag of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Carrington Training Ground on April 10, 2024 in Manchester, England
'We have good plans,' said Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag - Getty Images/Ash Donelon

Erik ten Hag has put on a brave face in recent weeks, even with the walls have appeared to be closing in on the Manchester United manager, and there was no deviation from that on Friday.

United may still be waiting for an entirely new football hierarchy to start work and have no clarity on what the summer transfer budget will be, let alone whether the current manager will remain in the post, but the man himself struck a familiarly upbeat tone.

“We are working in the background on plans with the scouting,” Ten Hag said. “The plan is ready but we have to execute. I trust the new ownership will work as quickly as possible and bring new good structures and they can execute.”

The blunter reality is that whatever plans have been drafted may have to be hastily redrawn depending on what materialises over the coming weeks and months.

Sure, Omar Berrada may be offering some direction while on gardening leave before formally taking over as chief executive in June and United hope an agreement can be struck with Southampton that will enable Jason Wilcox to start as technical director in the coming weeks.

Perhaps United will also have gleaned some ideas from Dan Ashworth while they negotiate a compensation package with Newcastle for the sporting director, a process Sir Jim Ratcliffe sought to accelerate by holding face to face talks with Amanda Staveley, the Tyneside club’s co-owner.

File photo dated 28-10-2023 of Dan Ashworth. Manchester United are hoping to bring in Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth, the PA news agency understands. Issue date: Thursday February 15, 2024
Dan Ashworth will leave Newcastle United for Old Trafford - PA/Nick Potts

But United are in a holding pattern at the moment, unsighted and chewing over decisions that could have huge repercussions. Anything less than victory on Saturday at Bournemouth – who beat United 3-0 at Old Trafford in December – would realistically end lingering hopes of Champions League qualification and deal a further blow to finances that are already tight.

Transfer targets would have to be adjusted if the budget shrinks, ditto if the manager changes and, with it, comes a deliberate move to a different playing style. Ratcliffe, you will remember, has already said United must decide how they want to play.

At the very least, Ten Hag could be forgiven for feeling a little more isolated this week following the departure of football director John Murtough. It was Murtough who brought him to Old Trafford, pushed for his arrival over Mauricio Pochettino, and remained loyal to the Dutchman to the end, even in the face of some shocking results and performances this season.

Whether Ashworth adopts the same view remains to be seen but Ten Hag has lost an ally. “I think it’s very important that the new ownership is working on this [a new director of football], to replace his [Murtough’s] function, to go into a new season,” the manager said. “For the moment, of course, I miss his support, the surround support – you miss that.

“He has moved on, we worked very good together, so I say thank you to John and wish him all the best for the future.”

The likes of Matt Hargreaves, United’s director of football negotiations, and deputy football director Andy O’Boyle will fill the void in the meantime along with Ineos director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford. But Ten Hag did admit that a new football structure might prompt some changes to transfer strategy, even if he made a concerted effort to suggest recruitment under him has been better than many make out.

“We have good plans,” said Ten Hag, who said he wants another striker this summer. “You see now with recruitment – [Andre] Onana is doing very well, Rasmus Hojlund everyone is seeing his big talent and potential. [Lisandro] Martinez everyone was hugely happy with him, and there are others.

“Recruitment is good. But if they have even better ideas … we are always open and always you have to judge. If you have the options but they come with better options, we are open.

“They have to fill us in. But we have a way we want to play so we know our profiles so it has to match the profiles we want.”

That did not sound like a manager who would tolerate a different style of football being hoisted on him, or one expecting to be moved on any time soon. But United are mired in uncertainty and it makes planning for next season all the more difficult.

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