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Manchester United are desperate for a summer clearout – but again face one major problem

The lap of honour had reached the Stretford End. Or perhaps it was more of a lap of apology, given the season they were marking. But a chorus broke out as Manchester United’s players neared the tunnel: “Erik ten Hag’s red-and-white army.” It has been heard before but perhaps the timing supported the beleaguered manager’s case that the fans are still on his side. Or maybe it simply reflected the pride of a United fanbase who make a point of sticking by their managers.

Ten Hag hopes he will be back next year though it is harder to say he deserves to be. For many, though, it was a last end-of-season trudge around the Old Trafford pitch. That tendency towards loyalty from the match-going United was shown by the chants of “Tony Martial scores again”. Again? Anthony Martial has two goals this season. He has gone five months without an appearance. He has 90 goals for United but an increasingly mercurial figure has outstayed his welcome.

There is a noble air to Raphael Varane. His farewell felt dignified and sad, the Frenchman sitting in the middle of an empty pitch to take it all in, even if it was typical that the injured Varane had missed the match. The World Cup winner cost £41m, will leave on a free transfer and was paid huge wages. Only one of his three seasons at Old Trafford was a success, either for him or the team, but a serial Champions League winner was unable to replicate his success at Real Madrid in Manchester. Even a player of his distinction was caught up in the chaos.

For Sofyan Amrabat, an unsuccessful loanee, it will be send-off, too: United have an option to buy him but, despite a couple of wholehearted displays this week, there is no realistic prospect they will.

But for many another, it could be goodbye. United will listen to offers to virtually everyone except Alejandro Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and Rasmus Hojlund, two of them scorers in the 3-2 win over Newcastle. That may even include the captain. Bruno Fernandes pledged to stay if wanted yet still cast doubt if he will.

“I will be here till when the club wants me and the club wants me to be a part of the future,” he said. “If for some reason they don’t want me, then I will go.”

Ten Hag was unequivocal: “The club wants to keep Bruno. There is no question. He loves Manchester United and he loves to play for Manchester United.” Whether that position would be as entrenched without Ten Hag may be put to the test. But the Portuguese is that rarity, a player who has enhanced his reputation at Old Trafford and who could attract interest from the elite.

Raphael Varane of Manchester United says goodbye to the fans (Manchester United via Getty Imag)
Raphael Varane of Manchester United says goodbye to the fans (Manchester United via Getty Imag)

He is a sellable asset, surrounded by the overpaid and the underachieving, the injured and the declining. They are the players United would probably rather lose, the men who may have feared for their futures as they walked around the pitch. There is Christian Eriksen, who has lost his place and looks past his best; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, another out of contract in 2025 and a right-back who has lost his battle with Diogo Dalot and is only playing due to a lack of fit left-backs; Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay, who the club were willing to sell last year, who have showed spirit to revive their United careers but who have evidence they may cash in on them if offers arrive; Jonny Evans, who has been valiant when given an unexpected second chance but who is 36 and only has a few weeks left on his deal.

There are the men who were supposed to transform a midfield. Mason Mount has had a horrific first year at Old Trafford; Casemiro has had plenty of humiliations in a terrible second. His race may be run, in part due to his inability to cover the ground quickly.

Erik ten Hag, Manager of Manchester United, applauds the fans (Getty Images)
Erik ten Hag, Manager of Manchester United, applauds the fans (Getty Images)

Marcus Rashford, who has had a terrible year, who the club will only sell if he wants to go, is likely to stay, his wages a deterrent to anyone else. United could be lumbered with Antony, the £85m misfit, rendered utterly unsellable by both PSR and the probability no one else would covet him. Like Alejandro Garnacho and Fernandes before him, Amad Diallo suggested he is a more dynamic and destructive option on the right flank than Antony with his starring role against Newcastle. Nowhere to be seen, but very much for sale, were the loaned-out Jadon Sancho, Donny van de Beek, Facundo Pellistri and Hannibal Mejbri.

But there could be a clearout. And if such sentiments are aired on an annual basis, if United can seem in permanent transition, if they forever seem to need a minimum to sign four players and to get rid of about eight, that is a consequence of misadventures in the transfer market, of a club where too many players get worse.

Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane and Bruno Fernandes (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

The challenge for United is to get to a stage when many players aren’t or shouldn’t be waving goodbye in the final home game, when they have earned the right to stay. But also to ensure that, in 12 months’ time, the lap of honour isn’t shamefaced.