Today marks three weeks since Erik ten Hag’s first transfer window in charge of Manchester United concluded.
The Dutchman arrived at Old Trafford with the brief of revamping a playing squad coming off the back of the club’s worst ever Premier League season. Armed with a reputation of nurturing talent and delivering a progressive and exciting brand of football, observers recognised the scale of the task on his hands.
Ten Hag had insisted on being in the driving seat of recruitment decisions, a welcome sight after some of his predecessors were hamstrung by a misguided approach in the market. And his influence on purchases were clear to see, with four of the five major signings having direct links to the new manager.
Antony, Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen had all either trained or played for Ten Hag at Ajax, while Tyrell Malacia was a highly-rated Eredivisie opponent. That level of control has been questioned, but ultimately, results will dictate whether the right approach was taken.
And that approach was formed after Ralf Rangnick opted to not take up United’s offer to remain as a consultant to the new boss. Despite his failings in the dugout, Rangnick has a proven track record for plucking out talents – and did so regularly during his time working with the stable of clubs owned by Red Bull.
Manchester Evening News reported that Rangnick and Ten Hag held telephone calls about recruitment, with the German supplying a list of potential targets. However, of the five players recommended, none ended up at Old Trafford by the close of play on September 1. Here Mirror Football takes a look at each of the players, how they have fared in the weeks since and whether interest could yet be reignited.
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Oh what could have been…in fairness to the United decision makers, once they missed out on Haaland in 2020, a move was always going to be unlikely. His form at Borussia Dortmund always meant the Norwegian would have the choice of the world’s best clubs and at the time, the Red Devils could hardly profess to being one of those.
The fact that he ended up with Manchester City will be something which will grate for years to come. Particularly if his early exploits in a sky blue shirt continue. With 11 Premier League goals, Haaland has scored three more than the entire United team. His next match? United at The Etihad.
Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig)
While Rangnick tipped all of the players on this list, Gvardiol was branded as “must buy”. United would spend big on a central defender, but splashed out £55m on Ten Hag recommendation, rather than the Croatian international.
But while his advice fell on deaf ears at Old Trafford, Chelsea clearly agreed with Rangnick and launched a desperate £77.4m bid for the 20-year-old. That was rejected with Leipzig managing to extend his contract for another 12 months.
That will do little to quell speculation about a move in the future though, especially after Gavrdiol hinted at a January move.”I’m happy at Leipzig, I still have a lot to learn and need to work on myself. I have people who deal with it, I didn’t think about a transfer. We’ll see what happens in the winter.”
If United do want to do business at the start of 2023, they will need to make him the most expensive defender in history, with the Bundesliga club demanding £85m.
Konrad Laimer (RB Leipzig)
Whereas the price for many of these targets will only go one way, Laimer could actually be more affordable once the window reopens. The central midfielder will be out of contract next summer and after being valued at £40m this time around, that could drop significantly in January.
Liverpool were said to be in the market to sign Laimer and could renew that in a few months’ time. Bayern Munich – as they so often do – will also look to swoop in and pluck their domestic rivals’ biggest talents.
“A hasty departure is not my thing. If I were to change clubs, I would want to think it through and decide calmly, not overnight,” he said earlier this month. “Especially since the first half of the season is very short anyway due to the World Cup and you wouldn’t have had time to settle in and find your feet.”
Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)
If a single player was able to sum up United’s misguided recruitment process, it was perhaps the prolific Nkunku. Having left Paris Saint-Germain, the forward enjoyed the best season of his career in 2021/22 scoring a stunning 35 goals in all competitions.
And so when Rangnick discovered United hadn’t even compiled a report on the Frenchman, he was rightly furious. That error was quickly amended and the Red Devils monitored him through the summer window.
Nkunku signed a new deal with Leipzig that lasts until 2026 and he started the new campaign in fine form scoring six times in 11 matches. He could also be another player that plans a move after the World Cup concludes, but United will have to battle with Europe’s elite to get him.
Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco)
Like Erling Haaland, the chances of United getting Tchouameni always appeared between the regions of ‘slim’ and ‘none’. His £70m move to Real Madrid was one of the biggest of the window and he has instantly shown he is at the level required of the European champions.
In a midfield three which also includes Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the young Frenchman could hardly be getting a better football education. Tchouameni looks set to be a key cog in Real’s side for years to come.
If Casemiro – the player he replaced at the Bernabeu – is anything to go by, United could very well be in the mix come the balmy summer of 2028.