Erik ten Hag wants Manchester United to sort out the Frenkie de Jong transfer as a matter of urgency because he regards the Dutch midfielder as the key player in the style revolution he intends to bring to Old Trafford.
The new United manager does not want the club spending transfer money on less important targets — even on out-of-contract players such as Christian Eriksen — as he wants the bulk of transfer budget directed at De Jong.
Once De Jong is signed from Barcelona, he will then decide which players he needs with the remainder of the budget. It points to a fresh United bid this week, with Barcelona demanding £69million, with United offering £56m.
Erik ten Hag is eager for Manchester United to sign Frenkie de Jong as a matter of urgency
United had hoped Barca would be desperate to sell because of their perilous financial state and mounting debts of close to £1bn. The Catalan club have to submit accounts to La Liga by the end of June, which will determine their spending limits next season, meaning a quick transfer seemed to be to their advantage as it would help to balance the books.
However, Barca members last week approved a £600m fundraising deal, mortgaging a percentage of future TV rights and merchandising rights to cover the majority of the debt.
Barca feel that will strengthen their hand in holding out for the full fee, as they are now willing to bide their time. Despite their financial troubles, they also remain confident of signing Robert Lewandowski, who has one year left to run on his deal at Bayern Munich.
Ten Hag doesn’t want the club spending transfer money on less important targets at this stage
The Bundesliga champions are adamant he will have to see out his deal. They also hope to bid for Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva if De Jong leaves for £69m. They expect to spend that fee on Bernardo as a replacement and believe the player wants to join them, though he has three years left on his City deal, leaving Pep Guardiola in a strong negotiating position.
But the City boss has always said he will allow players to leave at the right price if they tell him they no longer wish to be at the club.
Ten Hag will be encouraged if United do bid for De Jong again this week and get the deal done, as the midfielder will be integral to the team’s new playing style, moving the ball as a midfield pivot.
It confirms that United will attempt to play much more in the Ajax style, valuing possession more than under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, with the defensive midfielder expected to be the nexus of creativity and not just a physical presence.
Ten Hag sees De Jong, who he worked with at Ajax, as key to his revolution at United
Ten Hag does have other targets, Eriksen foremost among them, but he only wants those deals signed off once De Jong is confirmed. He doesn’t want to find that United have signed two or three players and then say that they don’t have enough money to meet Barca’s valuation for De Jong.
As such, it is expected that United’s move for 22-year-old Feyenoord left back Tyrell Malacia will proceed once the club are sure De Jong is coming.
Ten Hag wants a centre half as well but it looks as though Jurrien Timber will stay at Ajax, rejecting United’s offer, because he wants to be sure of playing regular football in the run up to the World Cup. In his time as Ajax coach, Ten Hag used De Jong in deep midfield, the first point of possession for centre halves passing out.
Yet De Jong would then immediately push on, attempting to progress 10-15 metres, to put his side on the front foot. Donny van de Beek, who is still at United and played at Ajax with De Jong, was notionally a No 10 in that side but could drop into a deeper role, more akin to a No 8, if De Jong was making forward runs.
If the de Jong transfer is confirmed United will look to bring in left-back Tyrell Malacia
It indicates that Ten Hag will be looking to play 4-3-3 with United and assuming that Cristiano Ronaldo will be centre forward, then Bruno Fernandes will have to adapt to a more versatile No 10 role, with more expected of him in deeper positions. Eriksen would also be capable of playing in that role and may offer more discipline.
With Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho expected to fill wide roles, Ten Hag will need further back-up other than Anthony Elanga, with Mason Greenwood still unavailable for selection and facing a bail hearing this week after being arrested on suspicion of rape and assault.
With Edinson Cavani leaving, United will also need to sign another centre forward, with Anthony Martial unsettled and likely to leave.