De Jong pursuit and Ten Hag autonomy expose Manchester United transfer failures

There is a vague air of David Moyes signing Marouane Fellaini at Man Utd. Things aren’t so unimaginative under Erik ten Hag, but…

While working in a new country offers an attractive opportunity for managers to grow, broaden their horizons and try something different, it is important that a certain degree of familiarity breeds satisfaction. The transition between coaching philosophies is never smooth; signing a player familiar with the methods of the successor can facilitate this change.

Jurgen Klopp made six signings in his first summer as Liverpool manager. None were from Borussia Dortmund – although attempts were made to reward Bayern Munich’s Mario Gotze before returning to Westfalenstadion – but four joined German clubs. These were players Klopp had faced, a talent he believed would suit his style and the Premier League from first-hand experience. The Reds attacked Schalke, Mainz and Augsburg to lay the foundations for their later success. And that’s before taking into account Roberto Firmino, signed from Hoffenheim months before Klopp’s appointment, a player the manager considered ‘one of the best in the Bundesliga’ at the time.

It’s not a foolproof approach. Joel Matip remains an integral part of the Anfield machine over six years later; Not Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan and Alex Manninger. And when Pep Guardiola came to power at Manchester City, his most notable addition was Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo, who was usurped by Willy Caballero within months. The Spaniard packed Ilkay Gundogan into his suitcase for the trip from Germany to England as Etihad’s first signing, but not all comfort blankets offer comfort.

Considering already Erik ten Hag certainly certainly absolutely promised to end their combined dominance, it’s no surprise that he followed a similar initial plan. All but two of his 23 years as a professional have been spent working in the Netherlands and it seems each of his targets is imbued with a similar level of Dutch grit. Tyrell Malacia has joined Feyenoord. Manchester United could return to the negotiating table with Ajax for Lisandro Martinez, Jurrien Timber or Antony. Even potential signings from further afield like Christian Eriksen, Brian Brobbey and Frenkie de Jong come with a shade of Oranje and a totaalvoetbal education as a prerequisite.

It is neither a crime nor a problem in isolation. They will naturally share many Ten Hag ideals and instincts and be more tactically malleable to fit into bespoke systems. But the wider context is a lack of imagination and, in its most damning form, a condemnable exposure of the club’s recruitment philosophy. The departures of Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout necessitated a critical restructuring of this department; the desperation of a rudderless, aimless ship gave Ten Hag absolute autonomy over transfers. And his Eredivisie-exclusive shortlist is curiously restrictive. It’s not David Moyes who receives a Waitrose voucher and still keeps Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines in his basket, but some avenues and possibilities open to a Manchester United manager are unnecessarily overlooked by a club. apparently unable to spin more than a single transfer plate.

Maybe solving De Jong’s problem will help things and broaden that field of vision. A Dutch influx is not a bad thing and Eredivisie skepticism is often misplaced. But focusing on this league should be part of a bigger picture, not an entire transfer plan.

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