Ten Hag still cleaning up Man United’s transfer policy mess

David de Gea still can’t find a new club, only West Ham United have shown an interest in Harry Maguire, and Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek, Eric Bailly and Brandon Williams are edging toward the Sept. 1 transfer deadline with limited options for life away from Manchester United.

Fred has left Old Trafford since the end of last season, joining Fenerbahce, while Anthony Elanga (Nottingham Forest) and Alex Telles (Al Nassr) have also been moved on. Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe are still without clubs since being released by United.

All of the above amounts to 11 first-team players that United manager Erik ten Hag has decided he no longer needs. Eight players with first-team experience, including Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata, left Old Trafford last summer following Ten Hag’s appointment, while Cristiano Ronaldo had his contract cancelled by mutual consent last November after failing to convince the new manager of his worth to the team.

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As the storm clouds begin to gather above Old Trafford following their unimpressive start to the season — Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur followed a fortunate 1-0 win at home Wolverhampton Wanderers in their opening game — it is worth considering the situation Ten Hag inherited just over a year ago before hitting the panic button. Yes, the former Ajax coach is not without fault. Some of his signings have been questionable — Antony continues to frustrate, while Wout Weghorst was clearly out of his depth during his loan from Burnley last season — and he has been unable to make United competitive away from home against the club’s top-six rivals.

But for those expecting, even demanding, a quick return to United’s glory days under Ten Hag, the fact that he has written off 20 first-team players since taking charge just 15 months ago highlights how poor the club’s squad had become and it will take time to address that. The harsh reality for those fans who are already beginning to turn on Ten Hag is that he is still in the middle of a salvage operation and having to do the football equivalent of turning an oil tanker around in rough seas.

Nine players have arrived on permanent transfers under Ten Hag, including the club’s former defender Jonny Evans, who has signed a short-term contract after leaving Leicester City this summer. Evans is clearly a sticking plaster signing, brought in as cover due to the anticipated exit of Maguire, but his arrival highlights the issues all over the squad that Ten Hag is still having to address. The lack of reliable options in reserve has forced him to sign a 35-year-old who played in a relegated team last season and originally left Old Trafford for West Bromwich Albion eight years ago.

But for a true gauge of the size of the job Ten Hag walked into, just assess how many of those players who have left United under his regime have actually performed to any kind of consistent level for their new clubs. Pogba’s fitness problems have continued at Juventus, with the France midfielder registering just 108 minutes in Serie A last season, while Lingard is now without a club following a poor season at Nottingham Forest. Mata is a free agent after being released by Galatasaray, Edinson Cavani is now with Boca Juniors after scoring just seven goals for Valencia last season and Nemanja Matic lasted a year at AS Roma before moving to Stade Rennais.

Time will tell how this summer’s departures fare after leaving Old Trafford, but despite so many United fans urging the club to hand De Gea a new contract, no other team is beating the door down to sign the error-prone goalkeeper. Both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been hit with a keeper crisis this summer, yet neither has taken the chance to sign De Gea on a free transfer. It is unlikely that Fred, Telles or Elanga will keep Ten Hag awake at night, worrying about them embarrassing him with outstanding performances at their new clubs. The lack of elite interest in Maguire, Van de Beek, McTominay, Bailly and Williams says everything about the real standard of United’s squad.

For a club to move on as many as 20 players in the space of three transfer windows suggests they are paying the price for a flawed recruitment policy dating back years; Ten Hag is simply the manager who has been charged with overseeing the rebuilding project. But no team can make such wholesale changes and expect the process to be without turbulence. United desperately need to raise the standard of their squad to the point where rival clubs covet their players rather than turn their backs when the opportunity arises to sign them.

It is always a good measure of the quality of a club’s players by seeing where they move. Brighton & Hove Albion’s players sign for clubs like Liverpool or Chelsea, while Romeo Lavia’s move to Stamford Bridge reflects well on both Southampton and Manchester City, who nurtured the midfielder in their youth set-up before offloading him to Saints a year ago. It is difficult to recall when United last had a player who performed so well that he was wanted by clubs of a similar stature. Marcus Rashford is perhaps the only one to do so over the past 10 years.

The challenge for Ten Hag to is get rid of the inferior players he inherited and replace them with those who will interest Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the years ahead. That is easier said than done, and it won’t happen quickly, but perspective is certainly required when it comes to assessing where United are at right now.

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