Manchester United Have Learned Their Lesson From The Frenkie De Jong Saga

The Red Devils are all-business this summer
08:00, 24 Jul 2023

Where was the mess? Where was the fuss? Manchester United have completed two transfers this summer, not counting the short-term deal signed to allow returnee Jonny Evans to play in pre-season friendlies. The surprising thing is not the fact United have sealed the signings of Inter Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana and midfielder Mason Mount of Chelsea. It is the fact they have wrapped these deals up with little of the drawn-out, complicated soap opera that usually heralds an Old Trafford arrival.

Manchester United and transfer sagas go together like salt and vinegar, or American owners and leveraged buyouts. The likes of Jadon Sancho and Ander Herrera arrived a year behind schedule due to public histrionics during negotiations. While other clubs move in the shadows, United have been guilty of trying to hammer their way through locked doors in search of players.


You don’t even have to go as far back as the Sancho and Herrera examples to find a botched United transfer. Last summer saw a very public, very misguided attempt to sign Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong. The pursuit cost United precious time and painted a picture of an organisation in which the left hand was unaware of what the right hand was doing.

Firstly, De Jong had little-to-no interest in moving to Old Trafford in the first place. Never the best start to a transfer negotiation. Secondly, despite Barcelona being relatively open to selling him in order to meet La Liga regulations, they still owed the player a considerable sum in deferred wages. De Jong was unwilling to move without this sum being paid in full.

Despite the transfer seeming like a no-go from every angle, United continued the pursuit despite the lack of progress being made. Eventually they did bow out and landed on their feet in buying Casemiro from Real Madrid. But the £70 million fee spent on a player who turned 31 in February was a huge outlay that spoke to United’s obvious desperation. Given how good Casemiro has been, it looks worth it, but there is no doubt the public failure to sign De Jong influenced Real to ask for a large sum.


Contrast that situation with United’s handling of the potential signing of Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur this summer. The club’s recruitment team, led by football director John Murtough, and manager Erik ten Hag quickly decided any pursuit ran the risk of a drawn-out and expensive saga. Given Kane’s previous reneged-upon threats to leave and the difficulty of negotiating a fair deal out of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, the club decided to leave it alone.

Lessons are being learned in United’s long-stale recruitment department. You can see that by the swift deals for Onana and Mount. The Red Devils bungled the departure of David De Gea, their number one keeper for the last 12 years. But they addressed the vacancy quickly and effectively. This hasn’t been the United way for a number of years and shows clear growth in that department.

The true tests of this new approach will be two-fold. Firstly, if it continues. United are currently in talks with Serie A club Atalanta over a deal for their promising striker Rasmus Hojlund. They reportedly want around €80 million for his services while United are not willing to go close to that figure. It has all the makings of a transfer from the bad old days. If United get this one wrapped up before the Premier League season starts, it will be a real show of improvement in their dealings. 

The other aspect of proof for the success of the recruitment department is performance on the pitch. United’s business can only be as good as the performances of the players they bring in. There’s no point doing a quick, professional deal for a player who ends up being rubbish. Onana, Mount, Hojlund and anyone else who joins will have to perform in order to justify their purchase.

But until we can get a gauge on where United are at competitively, we can only judge these transfers at negotiation level. United have addressed two positions in their squad with guile and discretion. That is not something you could level at them often in recent years. It really feels like the Red Devils are turning a corner with the way they do their business.

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