Ten Hag, who has beaten out Mauricio Pochettino to be United’s preferred candidate after multiple in-depth interviews, is not only making the usual demands surrounding the details of his lucrative contract, but has made it clear to the Old Trafford hierarchy that he wants full control over the club’s transfer business and the final say on any dealings which has caused negations to stall.
Having adopted a scattergun approach in the post- Sir Alex Ferguson era, the 52-year-old is keen to overhaul the Red Devils’ recruitment strategy, only signing players who are suited to his specific style of play; a high-pressing, possession-based brand of football employed by their rivals and most of the best teams in Europe.
But as talks between United and Ten Hag continue, those in charge at Old Trafford risk dropping the ball when it comes to their plans for the summer transfer window, with Mirror Football understanding that RB Leipzig have already smelt blood and offered the acclaimed coach a deal to become their new manager instead.
The Red Devils’ most desperate positional issue to solve is in defensive midfield, with Ralf Rangnick recently admitting how injuries to both Fred and Scott McTominay – each considered not good enough to bring United back to the top – leave them exposed in that department.
Given their obvious need for an upgrade, Ten Hag has reportedly made Wolverhampton Wanderers star Ruben Neves his No.1 transfer target, while the 20-time English champions are continually linked with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. Starting with Neves, likely the most attainable, the Red Devils would still need to fork out up to £100million for the Portuguese, with Wolves boss Bruno Lage saying as much in a recent news conference.
“I don’t know if it’s Man United or other teams, what I know is we have a special player here with us,” Lage declared last week. “What he is doing this season is very good. I think also the way we play, he can show a better Ruben, and also the way he plays puts our team on a different level.
“When you have that player, the best thing to do is improve his salary and years of contract. But who knows, when you have a top player like him in that specific position, that can defend and attack, and is a top professional and a great man, the big teams are there with £100m to buy these kinds of players.”
Given that the former Porto prodigy’s contract expires in 2024, Wolves will be in no rush to sell him this summer. Neves is also already an established international, proving himself in the world’s toughest division over the last four seasons with only Champions League football missing from his CV at Molineux, something which United – and Arsenal, also linked with interest – cannot guarantee.
Similarly, Rice and Phillips’ situations offer few positives from a Mancunian perspective. Rice has already been tagged as worth a whopping £150million, while Phillips would damage his reputation at his boyhood club if the 26-year-old were to leave Leeds for their bitter rivals.
Both key components of England’s recent success, the duo also have other admirers which will only raise their price tag. The Manchester Evening News recently reported that the Red Devils had stepped up their pursuit of Phillips, a cheaper alternative to Rice and someone more suited to Ten Hag’s system thanks to his time under Marcelo Bielsa.
Back in December, though, the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ shut down any transfer talk by telling the Daily Mail : “I speak to the (Leeds) owner regularly. I want a new contract. I’m very happy here. I just think it’s mental, but I’m not gonna say that I’m not worth £60m [his reported valuation]!”
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Plenty has been said about Rice’s valuation, with former United manager David Moyes constantly making it clear how desperate West Ham are to keep their vice-captain around, despite his desire to play at the highest level and compete for major trophies – still more likely at Old Trafford, regardless of their woes.
“Let me tell you, he’s not for sale,” Moyes reaffirmed to Sky Sports earlier this month. “So, that may shut down any questions about Declan, but we do expect questions on him because he’s doing so well. Is he irreplaceable? Well, I had to sell Wayne Rooney early when I was at Everton. I thought Wayne was irreplaceable but what happens in football is you move on. That is what happens in football.
“Sometimes things like this do happen but we’ve got no intention of letting that happen at this present time here at West Ham.” With speculation only increasing as Ten Hag ponders his prospect, one thing is for sure: the Dutchman’s ultimatum has given United’s big wigs a task which they cannot afford to fail if they truly want their man.