Despite a bounce-back season under new boss Erik ten Hag that saw them finish third in the Premier League, win the Carabao Cup and reach the Europa League semifinals, Manchester United face several challenges this season.
First and foremost, this team is still in “build mode,” as many of the pieces aren’t natural fits for the style of football Ten Hag wants to play. (It’s also the style that got him the job.) Second, there remains uncertainty over whether the club will be sold or whether it’ll take on new investment (or whether the Glazer family will simply maintain the status quo). As a result, budgets remain relatively tight (by United standards anyway).
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United have budgeted for a summer net spend of roughly £120 million ($153m,) plus whatever they can raise from outgoing players. They’ve already spent nearly half of that on signing Mason Mount from Chelsea, and they’ll probably want to bring in a striker, a goalkeeper and possibly help in midfield as well. That will require some careful moves in the summer.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories over the coming weeks applying the same “who to keep, who to extend and who to move on” approach to all the top clubs in the Premier League and Europe. You can find our Manchester City edition here, our Arsenal edition here , our Liverpool edition here and Chelsea can be found here.
OGDEN: “United had the option to extend his contract by one year, but they chose not to because he was on massive wages — only Cristiano Ronaldo earned more in the past few seasons — and instead tried to get him to agree to a short-term extension, albeit on less money. That didn’t work out, so now he’s gone and I think it’s time to move on.
“I don’t care how many Golden Gloves he wins. He makes a ton of mistakes, and he’s not suited to Ten Hag.”
MARCOTTI: “I think you need to turn this into a positive. Let De Gea test the waters. If it’s true that they wanted him to take a 50% pay cut to stay and he turned them down … well, that’s around £8m a year. Very few teams in Europe can afford to pay a keeper that, and those who can aren’t looking for a keeper, let alone De Gea.
“Use this time to look for a No. 1, and if it doesn’t work out, I think you can always go back to him. … Unless he goes to Saudi Arabia, he won’t find a club that will pay him that sort of money.”
Verdict: Released, is a free agent
OGDEN: “He wants to play regularly and Nottingham Forest are willing to sign him, so if you get a No. 1, whether De Gea or somebody else, you can let Henderson leave and maybe make £30m or so in transfer fees. If not, you have to keep him.”
MARCOTTI: “I don’t think it would be a tragedy if you transfer him and then bring back De Gea or even someone like Yann Sommer, maybe even on loan if it means giving you another £30m to spend on fees for the centre-forward you need. You’re not going to fix every position in one window anyway. And if you end up keeping him, you’ll probably need to extend him as well.”
Verdict: Split (keep him or find him a new club, depending on whether he’s going to be the club No. 1)
OGDEN: “Heaton is a good reserve keeper, but at his age, he wants to play. He had an offer from Luton Town and was tempted, but United are blocking it because they may need him if they let Henderson go and they don’t reach a new deal with De Gea.
“Ideally you’d let him go; I don’t see how you can until you’ve sorted this out.”
MARCOTTI: “I don’t see what the big deal is here frankly. The man is 37, he was their No. 3, he hasn’t played a minute of league football since 2020. Just let him go. You can always find a backup keeper on loan, like they did last year with Jack Butland.”
MARCOTTI: “I’m a fan of having a young player as your third keeper. He’s got league experience at Southend and at Mansfield Town in League Two, so keep him around.
“Like many United players, he has a club option extension that you can trigger if he suddenly looks good and you want to offer him a deal. There’s no point loaning him or trying to sell him at this stage.”
OGDEN: “He has a patchy fitness record, so I wouldn’t extend his deal, not least because United have the option of a one-year extension. You can wait and make a decision on that.”
Verdict: Keep, but do not extend
OGDEN: “You have to move him on. I don’t know where, and it might have to be on loan because of his wages and his remaining contract, but you have to move on. He is Man United’s fourth choice at centre-back and Gareth Southgate has made it clear that he needs to play if he is to be considered for England’s Euros squad next summer.”
MARCOTTI: “We’ve been here before. You’re going to have a huge problem finding a club that might want to take him on a permanent basis. I think you have to be open to a loan, maybe even paying a part of his wages, not least because you probably don’t want to loan him to a top-six club with whom you’re competing.”
Verdict: Split (find him a new club or send him on loan)
OGDEN: “I’m not a massive fan, though he did very well when he came in for Lisandro Martinez after his injury and when he’s not playing alongside Harry Maguire. He’s a solid squad player. I don’t think you need to extend his contract; you can just trigger the one-year option in January if needed.”
Verdict: Keep and extend, trigger his contract option in January
MARCOTTI: “He started four league games in the last four years and became the butt of many a cruel joke. It’s not surprising that the club let him go as a free agent. You just hope that he finds some serenity, whether in football or elsewhere.”
MARCOTTI: “You won’t get much for him in terms of transfer fees, not least because he had a difficult season at Marseille last year, making just five league starts, getting injured and then not getting back into the team. Ivory Coast are hosting the Africa Cup of Nations in January so he’ll want to get match fit, which means he presumably will be open to a move.”
Verdict: Find him a new club
OGDEN: “He didn’t play last year, so loan him out. If he does well and proves he’s fit and can contribute, you can always trigger the one-year option and then look to extend him.”
OGDEN: “You have to find him a new club and recoup what you can. He did well enough at Sevilla last year, but he can’t defend and there’s no need for United to carry three left-backs.”
MARCOTTI: “Telles may be more of a natural wing-back, but I don’t think he’s a bad player at all. If the club is determined to go with Malacia and Shaw, fine, but then loan him out and, if he does well, trigger the one-year extension.
“Who knows what’s going to happen? It’s insurance against Luke Shaw having to play centre-back and being stuck with Malacia as your starter.”
Verdict: Split (Find him a new club or send him on loan)
OGDEN: “He’s had a ton of injuries and only played six minutes of football last year in the Carabao Cup. He played regularly when on loan at Norwich the year before, so I’d look to find him a new club and get what I can.”
MARCOTTI: “Again, if you have that one-year club option situation, why not use it? See if he can go on loan somewhere and relaunch his career. Letting him leave on a permanent deal right now makes no sense: nobody is going to give you money for a guy who played six minutes of football in the previous 12 months. Plus, he can offer cover for both full-back positions.”
Verdict: Split (Find him a new club or send him on loan)
OGDEN: “He played a lot at Preston in the Championship last year and he’s yet another left-back. Keep him around as a squad player. If you like what you see you can always trigger the one-year extension or give him a whole new deal.”
OGDEN: “I can’t believe they gave him a five-year deal. He’s average. This is Manchester United’s fatal flaw: sure, extend his contract, but why give him five years when he’ll take three?”
OGDEN: “He’s not my ideal right-back, but he buckled down and did very well last season and you’ve got to reward that.”
MARCOTTI: “I’d defer to Ten Hag on this one. On paper, he’s not a Ten Hag full-back at all. Sure, he worked hard, but he is what he is. I certainly wouldn’t extend him in the summer. You can always trigger the one-year extension if you’re scared that suddenly Real Madrid will come in for him or whatever.”
Verdict: Split (keep and extend his contract/keep and assess options for moving him in the future)
OGDEN: “Move him on. He’s an honest performer, just not of Manchester United quality. He’s on a six-figure salary and he’s a walking yellow card … they signed Mason Mount as well … it’s time to move on.”
MARCOTTI: “I’m inclined to keep him unless you somehow get a big offer, like north of £30m or something. I think over the course of the season, you need two alternatives to Casemiro, not one. United have McTominay, Fred and then you get into Donny Van de Beek territory, or you ask Mason Mount or Christian Eriksen to do something they’re not suited to doing.
“Plus, McTominay can also fill in at centre-back if Maguire goes and isn’t replaced.”
Verdict: Split (find him a permanent move or keep him)
OGDEN: “I certainly wouldn’t extend him now. He faded badly late last season and they added Mount.”
Verdict: Keep, but do not extend his contract
OGDEN: “The club are open to finding him a permanent move, but I would keep him. He’s considerably more reliable than McTominay, he had a decent season and he works well with Casemiro. Plus, you’d get more in the transfer market for McTominay than him.”
MARCOTTI: “I agree. Frankly, I’d keep both him and McTominay unless you get a big offer, which is more likely for the latter. I’d be careful with offering him a long-term extension, though.”
Verdict: Keep and extend his contract
OGDEN: “You’re not going to find a buyer given he was a disaster at Everton and has had really bad injuries. Nurse him back to health and then maybe loan him somewhere and see where he is.”
Verdict: Keep and assess his fitness
OGDEN: “He’s highly rated, and I think Ten Hag is the right manager to develop youngsters. He can also be a useful squad player in a position where United are short, central midfield, especially if Fred or McTominay go.”
MARCOTTI: “I think youngsters need to play. United under Ten Hag aren’t United under Sir Alex with the Class of ’92 and all that … there’s a ton of pressure and this is a big season. You have to get him significant minutes at his age. So unless he has a monster preseason and Ten Hag thinks he’s ready to contribute in a meaningful way, I’d loan him out.”
Verdict: Split (keep, but look for a loan or keep in the first-team squad)
OGDEN: “He had a season on loan at Birmingham, did OK, but that’s Birmingham. Move him or loan him, in my opinion.”
MARCOTTI: “I don’t know what you’d get now for him. He’s locked up under contract until 2026, so give him another year on loan and see how he does.”
Verdict: Split (find him a permanent move or loan out and see how he performs)
OGDEN: “The pressure is on, isn’t it? If they don’t get the extension done, he could agree to leave as a free agent in January. That would be a disaster.”
Verdict: Keep and extend his contract
OGDEN: “Another example of the misguided largesse under former executive Ed Woodward. They paid £71m in transfer fees for a player nobody wanted, and now he can’t get into the team. You’d move him on permanently if you could, but nobody can afford him.”
MARCOTTI: “I’m not quite as negative about him as you are. Yes, he’s had two rough seasons, but what he did at Borussia Dortmund wasn’t a figment of our imagination. The trick is helping him regain his mojo.”
MARCOTTI: “Between him, Sancho and Rashford, that’s three guys for the left flank, so I think he or Sancho will need to see playing time on the right as an alternative to Antony. But he’s obviously a guy you’re excited about.”
OGDEN: “He can be a real star, which is why they gave him a new contract. His development needs to be handled with care, but there’s real talent there.”
OGDEN: “He barely played last season and Ten Hag clearly doesn’t rate him. He’s young and has a long-term deal, you can get something for him.”
Verdict: Find him a new club
OGDEN: “He’s an expensive mistake, but I don’t think the club are ready to admit it yet. You’ve got to persevere with him for now.”
OGDEN: “He had a really good season at Sunderland, and there was talk of sending him on loan. But he’s already been on loan three times. Therefore I think you keep him, not least because you’re light in the right wing position. Keep him and see how he does: you’ve got the option of the one-year extension, or you can talk to him about a longer-term contract down the road.”
OGDEN: “He’s another option down the right, though not as attacking. I’d keep him, he might be an option at right back, too. He’s got to do what Garnacho did last year to get an extension though.”
MARCOTTI: “Obviously this is a problematic one, but I think the club have to stick with their word. They keep him pending their internal investigation, then they either release him or continue with him. If they do conclude it’s appropriate to keep him, it’s going to take a long time to get him match fit in any case.”
OGDEN: “No matter what they do, they’ll be criticised for it. But the internal investigation began in February, after the authorities dropped the charges against him, and sources have told ESPN that the club are aiming to make a decision before the start of the new season. How long can it take?”
OGDEN: “You’ve got to get rid of him even if that means you’re short of forwards. Because even when he’s not injured, which isn’t often, he doesn’t contribute. He’ll have one good game in 10.”
MARCOTTI: “I’m coming around to the idea that it may be best to cut him loose. In the last seven years, he started more than 18 league games in a season just once.
“Ordinarily, I’d talk about how they’re severely undermanned up front and how you need at least three striking options. But frankly, his deal expires in June 2024 and they’re not going to extend it, so you may as well move on now even if you won’t get much for him. If you need an extra forward, find somebody on loan.
“If you bring in a legitimate central striker and get somebody on loan as an extra attacking body, it’s not the end of the world. Heck, United finished third in the Premier League with Wout Weghorst as an on-loan centre-forward last season.”
Verdict: Find him a permanent new club
Man United’s rebuild under Ten Hag is a slow burn by necessity.
The uncertainty over the ownership situation — will the Glazers even sell? — coupled with some financial sustainability concerns after last summer’s big spending spree limit what they can do.
If they can find new clubs for Elanga, Henderson and one of Maguire/McTominay/Fred, they should have enough — once you add what’s left over from the £120m spending budget after the Mount deal — to bring in a decent keeper and a top centre-forward. That means putting more pieces in place on a squad that likely won’t be ready to properly compete for top honours until 2024-25 at the earliest.
Of course, the single most important thing they need to do is extend Rashford’s contract. If they screw that up, then it will all take even longer.