Man United's 'summer rebuild' is coming but will such big change work?

Erik ten Hag’s Man United rebuild is coming but will it really fix their woes? Up to TEN new stars could arrive, with Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Darwin Nunez all linked… but a drastic overhaul doesn’t always work

  • Ralf Rangnick says Man United could need 10 players in their summer overhaul
  • He promised a ‘rebuild’ again after United’s dismal defeat by Liverpool at Anfield
  • United need a holding midfielder, new full backs, a striker and possibly a winger 
  • But will big changes on and off the pitch really turn the struggling club around?
  • The task will be up to Erik ten Hag, who was appointed as new boss on Thursday 
  • Spurs and Liverpool know that buying too many players doesn’t always work

Rebuild. That’s the buzzword following Manchester United around wherever they go at the moment as they desperately try to put another dismal season behind them and build towards better days.

Beleaguered interim manager Ralf Rangnick talked about the need for a drastic overhaul at the club again on Tuesday night when he had just watched his side get mauled by Liverpool at Anfield.

Another shameful performance on another shameful night for a club whose fall from grace knows no bounds. Everything is ‘fundamentally broken on and off the pitch’, as Gary Neville said in Sky’s studio.

Ralf Rangnick again talked up the need for a drastic summer rebuild at Manchester United

The German said the Red Devils may need as many as 10 players through the door this summer

But don’t worry. The rebuild is coming. Deadwood will be cast aside and replaced with new names that will seamlessly click together and take United back to the summit of the domestic and European game.

The club’s scouting department will shudder into life and start to identify talent that can take United to where they want to be – even if that will be without their two top scouts Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout, who left on Wednesday.

Erik ten Hag is the new manager, announced on Thursday, and he will introduce a free-flowing, aggressive style of pressing football in the mould of Liverpool and Manchester City.

Dead weight will be moved on and the wages currently invested into big names who deliver nothing will be instead focused on young players with a desire to improve and run themselves into the ground.

If this all sounds familiar then it’s because this is what has been promised before at the time of year when United are out of the title race, out of the domestic cups, out of Europe and have nothing to play for. 

Neville’s latest assessment of what is unfolding at Old Trafford was brutal. He said: ‘Coming to the recruitment side, what they’ve done over last 10 years. What United have done is bring players in with piano introductions like Sanchez or Pogba. 

Gary Neville was fiercely critical of United after watching their 4-0 defeat at Liverpool 

‘They’ve elevated the player above the manager at the football club. You go to Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, the manager is the primary figure at the football club.

‘They’ve undermined managers over the last 10 years at Man United by elevating the players to this God-like status and the players haven’t performed. The players could do better, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could’ve done better, Rangnick maybe could have done better.

‘No owners of any good business in the world where the core activities of the business is failing and the cash reserves are being drained over the last three years through Covid, can you continue to take money out of a business.

‘No shareholders, directors and owners of a good business, when the business is failing at its core activity, the cash reserves are being drained, there is investment required in hundreds of millions invested into the stadium and training ground and continue to take money out of the business. They can’t do it. 

‘Fundamentally the club is broken on and off the pitch. The stadium is falling apart, the training ground is falling back to second rate compared to other grounds. The owners are taking £25m out a year when the club need investment.’

But this time there can be no failure. Things have got so bad for Man United that real change is needed now, throughout the entire football club. 

Despite protests from supporters, the Glazers appear to have no intention of selling the club

Ajax manager Erik ten Hag has been announced as the club’s new permanent manager

The search for a new manager has finally come to an end with Ajax’s Ten Hag moving to Old Trafford this summer after signing a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth. But he will need time to implement his ideas, backing from those above him when making important decisions and financial support in the transfer market.

Ten Hag has proven himself to be a shrewd operator who is capable of building a winning team. He constructed the Ajax side that got to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019 with the likes of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind and Nicolas Tagliafico all proving to be inspired buys.

Then, when that side was taken apart by Barcelona (Frenkie de Jong) and Juventus (Matthijs de Ligt) – as well as Chelsea who bought Hakim Ziyech in February 2020 – he regrouped and built another competitive team.

Jurrien Timber, Lisandro Martínez, Edson Alvarez, Ryan Gravenberch, Antony and Steven Berghuis are a blend of academy graduates and signings of little fanfare that have come together to be successful in Amsterdam.

Ajax claimed six wins from six in the Champions League group stage, are on course for another Eredivisie title and lost in the KNVB Cup final last week. 

The prospect of putting Ten Hag in charge of leading United’s rebuild with the huge transfer backing he’ll have is a tantalising prospect. But he’s got a huge job on his hands.

Harry Maguire needs a top centre back partner to take the pressure of him in United’s defence

Rangnick’s assessment in the aftermath of the Anfield drubbing was bleak, claiming it could take as many as 10 new players this summer to make the club competitive again. 

‘There will be a rebuild here. Six, seven, maybe 10 new players will come,’ the German said. ‘(Liverpool) have better players than we have and this was really reflected by the result today.

‘There will be a rebuild for sure, that was obvious in the first three or four weeks for me. For us it is extremely embarrassing as a coaching staff to sit here and have a press conference like this. We just have to admit they are better than us.’ 

There could be an unprecedented overhaul of the United squad this summer with the number of players leaving Old Trafford possibly hitting double figures.

Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Lee Grant are set to move on as free agents and Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones could follow.

Bruno Fernandes will stay but United need two holding midfielders who can shield the defence

United have been linked with deals for England duo Declan Rice (left) and Kalvin Phillips (right)

Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek will return from loan spells at Sevilla and Everton respectively. Van de Beek hopes to revive his United career under his old Ajax boss Ten Hag but Martial is still intent on leaving. 

It is not hard to see where United’s squad need an upgrade. The spine of the team – David De Gea, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo – is far from the worst in the Premier League.

Maguire’s performances have been abysmal this season but the introduction of a quality centre back partner who can make up for the England star’s shortcomings will ease the burden.

The exposure of Maguire’s faults has also been magnified because of a woeful lack of protection from midfield. It’s hard to imagine United would concede so many goals if Maguire was partnered with Virgil van Dijk, had Fabinho ahead of him and Andy Robertson to his left.

United are said to have discussed Antonio Rudiger, who is available on a free from Chelsea this summer, as a possible recruit at centre back while a move for Timber would make sense given his links to Ten Hag. Is he ready to become Maguire’s long-term partner though?

It should also not be forgotten that Raphael Varane is at the club. The Frenchman has made 25 appearances in a rather underwhelming first season but, with three more years left on his current deal, there is time for him to turn things around. 

Jurrien Timber (left) has been spoken about as someone who Ten Hag could bring from Ajax

Full back is also a major issue. Luke Shaw can never stay fit enough to have an impact over a prolonged period while Aaron Wan-Bissaka offers nothing going forward and even his defensive ability is coming under the microscope.

The difference between United’s wing backs (Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot) and Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold was stark on Tuesday night. Alex Telles has also failed to impress in England.

Defensive midfield remains the most important issue for United to get right. How they have not bought an upgrade on Matic, Scott McTominay and Fred in the last two years speaks to the mismanagement Neville highlighted.

Fabinho, Rodri, Casemiro, N’Golo Kante, Joshua Kimmich – all of the teams winning domestic titles and competing from the Champions League have a world-class central midfielder both on and off the ball.

Pogba has not been that man for United since he re-joined the club from Juventus, nor can he be the one that shields his side’s defence from attacks. That is the most pressing issue for the Red Devils this summer. 

Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips stand out as the obvious options. Both are England internationals, capable of playing in a double pivot or on their own with more attack-minded players ahead of them.

United have been linked with Harry Kane (left) and Darwin Nunez (right) as their new striker

Wilfred Ndidi’s stock has dropped slightly after an average season at Leicester that has been affected by injury while RB Leipzig’s Konrad Laimer, Ruben Neves of Wolves and Brighton’s Yves Bissouma are all alternatives.

The big question mark is up front. Will Cristiano Ronaldo, who has endured a frustrating season despite scoring 21 goals, want to spend his twilight years at a club scrapping for a top-four finish?

The Portugal star is known to feel there will be no quick fix for United’s problems as he weighs up whether to stay for the second and final year of his contract. Finding another top club willing to pay his £500,000-a-week wages make take that decision out of his hands.

With a replacement needed for at least Cavani, United are thought to be interested in either Harry Kane or highly-rated Benfica striker Darwin Nunez.

There is an argument to be had for United also needing a winger, given Martial’s desire to leave and the rapid decline of Marcus Rashford’s form and confidence but there are bigger priorities that need addressing.

So yes, Rangnick is right. It is probably around 10 players that United need this summer. But the real task will be merging them with what’s already there and integrating them into the kind of system Ten Hag wants to play.

Tottenham bought in seven new players in 2013 and failed to get them to gel together quickly

Liverpool had a huge overhaul in 2014 but the club went backwards under Brendan Rodgers

There have been plenty of cautionary tales concerning a drastic squad overhaul in the past that United would do well to remind themselves of.

Tottenham showed how not to do it in 2013 when they spent the best part of £120million – earned through the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid – on improving the squad available to Andre Villas-Boas.

In came Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Nacer Chadli. Aside from Eriksen and arguably Lamela, none of them improved the team and all moved on fairly quickly.

Liverpool suffered the same problem in 2014 when, just after missing out on the title under Brendan Rodgers, they allowed Luis Suarez to join Barcelona for £75m and tried to replace the Uruguayan.

Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi, Emre Can and Javier Manquillo were all signed. Rodgers was sacked 15 months later after the recruits took Liverpool backwards. 

That suggests that patience is required, along with a coordinated and strategic plan of attack in the transfer market. Liverpool have built the team currently competing on four fronts over the course of Jurgen Klopp’s reign, not in just one summer.

Mohamed Salah scored twice as Liverpool went top of the Premier League table on Tuesday

But not much has gone right for United since Sir Alex Ferguson departed and you wouldn’t back those in the top jobs at Old Trafford to carry out such a huge rebuild successfully. 

What would help massively is qualifying for the Champions League. You feel that failure to finish in the top four would seriously reduce the quality of player available to United this summer and that would delay things even further.

Tuesday night’s defeat at Liverpool dented their top-four hopes, and Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea on Wednesday pushed United even further down the pecking order. As it stands, they are sixth and three points behind Arsenal and Spurs, but having played a game more.

Everything about United is bleak at the moment from performances on the pitch, to the search for a manager and the atmosphere among fans.

But the end of another disastrous season on the pitch is finally on the horizon and now it’s time for those off it to re-shape the club from the ground up.

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