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07/01/2024 14:58

INEOS and Erik ten Hag have a transfer mission Man United can no longer ignore

Sitting eighth in the Premier League table and already out of Europe, Manchester United would be forgiven for loosening the purse strings over the next three weeks or so.

The opening of the January transfer window almost a week ago has, from some corners, been met with cries for United’s hierarchy to dive into the market and splash the cash. You only have to look at United”s  recent history to know that won’t be the case.

United are renowned for being quiet in January, rarely splashing the cash to bolster their squad mid-season. Last season, for example, they drafted in three new additions in January, each of whom arrived on loan.

Similarly, though situations can change in an instant in January, United are not expected to spend big this month, if at all. They may only strengthen the squad if an enticing loan deal presents itself.

Therefore, it means any hopes United fans may have of seeing the squad significantly upgraded over the next few weeks will have to wait until the summer. After all, it will be during the off-season when INEOS and Sir Jim Ratcliffe , following their minority investment, will look to make their first meaningful mark on the squad.

Manager Erik ten Hag , speaking to the media on Thursday, said talks between himself and the new minority shareholders had been “very positive”. Having been so encouraged by those initial discussions, he will be hoping to take full advantage of Ratcliffe’s pledge to put United back on the map.

Last season, it felt as though United were in the process of announcing their rebirth, ending their wait for a trophy and securing a top-four finish. This season, however, they have regressed at an alarming rate, meaning it is clear INEOS will have to do as much as they can during the summer to freshen up the squad, though that won’t be the only task on their to-do list.

Ten Hag has been backed considerably in the transfer market since arriving at Old Trafford, being allowed to revamp the goalkeeping department, sign a big-money centre-back, bring in a cluster of central midfielders, a winger and a striker. Except for Tyrell Malacia, who was drafted in from Feyenoord as a future prospect, and Sergio Reguilon, who was brought in on loan to provide emergency cover, he has not overseen a statement signing in either full-back position.

That, however, needs to change this forthcoming summer, just as it did last summer. For the bulk of Ten Hag’s tenure, he has struggled to settle on a preferred option at right-back, with Aaron Wan- Bissaka   and Diogo Dalot  fighting tooth and nail to claim top spot in the pecking order.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot in conversation mid-game.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (left) and Diogo Dalot have shared the right-back responsibility. (Image: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images.)

Dalot was right-back-in-chief prior to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, producing a series of excellent performances, but saw Wan-Bissaka produce an unlikely comeback after the tournament. Wan-Bissaka, prior to the showpiece event, had seen his career at Old Trafford hit the buffers, meaning he deserves genuine plaudits for turning his fortunes around.

Though the former Crystal Palace man, who has recently had his contract extended until 2025, has turned his fortunes around, he is not what you would describe as a world-class full-back, nor would you Dalot. Both players, though they have qualities worthy of plaudits, do not have ceilings as high as United would like them to have.

Wan-Bissaka is sound defensively but limited going forward. Dalot is more adventurous in an attacking sense but limited defensively. If you could mould the two, you would have a solid right-back.

It is why, regardless of Wan-Bissaka’s contract extension, United need to make the signing of a new right-back one of their leading priorities this summer. It is an area within the team that is in need of a dominant figure topping the pecking order, with either Wan-Bissaka or Dalot providing back-up and competition.

That would have to result in either Wan-Bissaka or Dalot being sold, but United, for too long, have been criticised for retaining players and losing them for nothing. Either player would command a respectable fee this summer, particularly if they enjoy a strong second half of the season.

Both have proven in patches under Ten Hag that they are capable operators, but the Dutchman’s failure to settle on a preferred candidate highlights that he has doubts about who should top his pecking order. The only way that situation can be resolved is by bringing in a new face.

INEOS will have several missions to complete this summer, but signing a new right-back could rank as one of the most important and overdue. United failed this particular mission in 2023, they can’t in 2024.

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