After a disappointing 2021-22 campaign, fans of Manchester United eagerly await the end of the season to reset and reevaluate the team’s direction and structure for the following year. Though it is fun to poke around and plug in the world’s greatest talents into the side, United’s soft rebuild requires a bit more nuance to heal the wounds of a terrible season. Here are Manchester United’s summer priorities.
Direction, Direction, Direction
Before beginning a rebuild on a squad, the first step is agreeing on a direction or a goal. At surface level, United will want to contend for everything, but this skips over the natural flow of contention and how a team gets to a point of achieving these goals.
This season lacked purpose for United. After stumbling out of the title race, giving up both domestic cups, and fizzling out in the Champions League, they seemed to call it a day and settle for the top four, another goal they’re failing to meet. The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as a consultant was a very positive start, despite the glaring stain the past six months have left on his reputation. Rangnick is a specialist in rebuilding and most importantly for United, cheap recruitment, meaning that the days of splashing the cash on the summer’s hottest name should be over. The 63-year-old German’s appointment wasn’t enough, with the team seeing its worst run of games in years but the hiring was out of panic, and Rangnick’s style was well beyond the capabilities of the side he inherited.
This is all to say that there is something to look forward to. The Rangnick-era of coaching has undone the locker room and any progress made by Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but a reported £1.5 million is expected to be off the books as a result of free agents leaving, giving Rangnick and Co. more room to build upwards. Another underrated addition to the recruitment is new manager Erik ten Hag, whose excellent run with Ajax over the past five years was led by his knack for finding and developing talent. There are already rumors of the Dutch manager bringing a lot of Ajax products with him to Manchester, as well as looking to revitalize lost talents such as Donny van de Beek, who enjoyed great success with Ajax and ten Hag.
All of these moves are signs of a defined direction. The added patience of United after hiring ten Hag is admirable as well, holding off on inquiries for players and rumors and instead of waiting on ten Hag to arrive and build from there. This is the most important concept of building a team as mentioned before, and the tactical foundation set by the former Ajax manager is one of the best places to start. All United needs to do is hold tight and continue down this path.
As with any rebuild, there will be a massive shift in structure and personnel on all levels of the club, but United’s board must find a way to naturally transition out of the post-Ferguson hole they find themselves in, starting with players.
The likes of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, and Jesse Lingard are already on their way out, but it is clearly on their terms, suggesting that the Red Devils wouldn’t mind holding onto deadwood if it meant filling squad spots. It relates to the aforementioned “direction” that the club is heading but a natural push away from the old, underperforming squads of the past was very much needed for the board to move forward. Beyond free-agent departures, however, there needs to be more aggression in the outgoings to match the rapid and reckless spending Manchester United indulges in every summer.
Though ten Hag will be keen on reviving certain talents in the squad, players like David De Gea, Scott McTominay, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka should be on the transfer list, or at the very least looking to provide depth to the squad to make room for younger and better-fit players. Despite De Gea’s overperformance in goal, distribution remains a mighty struggle for the club legend, and with the board’s reluctance to purchase more composed, ball-playing defenders, the pressure only increases for De Gea who already struggles with composure on the ball. This is in contrast to McTominay and Wan-Bissaka however, who rarely provide anything positive but find themselves playing big minutes for the club weekly. This situation, in particular, is quite difficult as these three and many others were seen to be crucial parts of United’s success going forward but these tough decisions can lead to success if managed right, especially from a club that obviously favors a passive and reactionary approach to building a team.
A focal point for the top sides in Europe, Manchester United is in dire need of an ego-check among players, taking in more and more big names as summers go by without any real definition or agreement on their role in the team. Players like the aforementioned Jesse Lingard were promised big minutes and prohibited from joining other squads after a successful 2020-21 campaign with West Ham after an overvaluation from the club, leading to a public flare-up and his imminent departure from the club this summer as a free agent. Bigger names such as center-back and club captain Harry Maguire saw a rapid decline in performance following a stellar Euros campaign and as a result, got worse with every game he played while still being given big minutes. Rangnick’s reluctance in using a stronger approach to the team’s mentality is clearly to cushion whatever blow they face when ten Hag steps in but there is a clear lack of respect between the players and the interim coach that hasn’t been addressed and hampered their performance throughout the season.
The clear solution here is to reset the philosophy and recognize that though very capable, a person of Rangnick’s status is among the worst candidates for a six-month job and better suited for a long-term restructuring of a club, much like what ten Hag is heading into. This is quite reassuring for United fans everywhere going forward as just like Ralf, the Dutch manager demands respect for his intricate system where all players must have a clear role and agree to it no matter how big or small. This is a struggle that is easier to deal with over years rather than a few months as the Red Devils just did, and with a recruitment and development-heavy coach stepping into the role, Manchester United have a bright and exciting future ahead of them.