Erik ten Hag and Frenkie de Jong

De Jong Chase and Ten Hag’s autonomy exposes Manchester United transfer blunders

There is a vague air of David Moyes signing Marouane Fellaini at Man Utd. Erik ten Hag is not that unimaginative, but…

While working in a new country offers managers an enticing opportunity to grow, broaden their horizons and try something different, it’s important that a degree of familiarity inspires satisfaction. The transition between coaching philosophies is never smooth; Bringing in a player who is knowledgeable about the successor’s methods can facilitate this change.

Jurgen Klopp has made six signings in his first summer as Liverpool manager. None were from Borussia Dortmund – although An attempt was made to get Mario Götze from FC Bayern Munich before his return to the Westfalenstadion – but four from German clubs joined. These were players Klopp faced, talents he felt would suit his style and the Premier League first-hand. The Reds stormed Schalke, Mainz and Augsburg to lay the foundation for their later success. And that’s before factoring in Roberto Firmino, who was signed from Hoffenheim months before Klopp’s appointment, a player whom the manager then regarded as “one of the best in the Bundesliga”.

It’s not a foolproof approach. Joel Matip remains a staple of the Anfield machine more than six years later; Not Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan and Alex Manninger. And when Pep Guardiola came to power at Manchester City, his loyal signing was that of Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo, who was usurped by Willy Caballero within months. For the trip from Germany to England, the Spaniard packed Ilkay Gündogan in his suitcase as his first Etihad contract, but not every blanket is comforting.

When you think of Erik ten Hag certainly absolutely committed to ending their shared dominance, it’s no surprise that he’s followed a similar original design. He has worked all but two of his 23 years as a professional in the Netherlands and it seems each of his goals is imbued with a similar level of Dutch courage. Tyrell Malacia joined from Feyenoord. Manchester United could return to the negotiating table with Ajax in place of Lisandro Martinez, Jurrien Timber or Antony. Potential transfers from further afield, such as Christian Eriksen, Brian Brobbey and Frenkie de Jong, also bring a touch of Oranje and a pan-Voetbalistic education.

This is neither a crime nor an isolated problem. They will, of course, share many of Ten Hag’s ideals and instincts, and be more tactically malleable to fit into bespoke systems. But the broader context is a lack of imagination and, at worst, a condemnatory exposure of the club’s recruiting ethos. The departures of Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout have necessitated a major reorganization of this department; The desperation of a rudderless and aimless ship has led to Ten Hag being granted total autonomy over transfers. And his Eredivisie-exclusive shortlist is oddly restrictive. It’s hardly David Moyes who gets a Waitrose voucher and still keeps Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines in his basket, but some avenues and opportunities open up for a Manchester United manager are unnecessarily overlooked by a club apparently unable to rotate more than a single transmission disk.

Maybe it will help clear De Jong’s traffic jam and expand the field of view. A Dutch move isn’t a bad thing and Eredivisie skepticism is often misplaced. But a focus on this league should be part of a broader vision, not the entirety of a transfer plan.


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