How £57m La Liga decision could hand Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag his two-year transfer wish

The Manchester United manager is expected to spend big this summer following Sir Jim Ratcliffe's investment.

There would be some irony behind Frenkie de Jong being the first signing of the Sir Jim Ratcliffe era - two full years after he was tipped to be the first arrival under Erik ten Hag.

De Jong was identified as Ten Hag's prime target in the summer of 2022, following the Dutchman's decision to bring a more technically gifted option into the United midfield. They even had a £70million offer accepted by Barcelona in July but were unable to advance with the deal because of deferred wages owed.

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Interest is thought to have remained in De Jong amid the feeling he has never truly been untouchable at Barcelona, who are not in a position to turn away big-money offers. The Catalan club have been plagued by financial constraints for years and any hope of a squad rebuild will rely on at least one high earner being moved on.

Manager Xavi has already confirmed he will leave the club once this season is over, with any new hire almost certainly wanting to invest. And the Catalan club's situation has just been made that much harder by La Liga's decision to reduce their salary cap.

The Spanish top-flight imposes salary caps on each of its 20 teams in a bid to avoid the kind of reckless overspending that almost plunged Barcelona into oblivion in recent years. On Tuesday, they announced that those in charge at Camp Nou could spend no more than €204million (£174.8m), which is a significant reduction on the €270m (£231m) that was set in September.

The Athletic has since reported that Barcelona's 'real squad cost' for 2023/34 is currently budgeted at £421m, meaning they need to cut significant costs before being able to sign any more players. That is the kind of gap that cannot be bridged by offloading fringe players and so it is likely at least one first-team regular could be cashed in on.

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De Jong insisted once again this week that he is happy in Barcelona and wants to remain with the Catalan side for the foreseeable future. But with the financial complications and need to cut costs, there can come a point when it is no longer only his decision. A considerable offer may well be accepted again and the midfielder made clear of the situation.

There is growing optimism around United that they can make an unlikely charge for a top-four spot in the Premier League, helped in part by a run of five straight wins in all competitions. Confirmation of Sir Jim Ratcliffe's arrival earlier this week further buoyed the mood and qualification for next season's Champions League would help the club in attracting top-level targets.

The United project is once again an exciting one, with Ten Hag's most promising players all far from reaching their respective peaks. Rasmus Hojlund is flying after scoring his first Premier League goal on Boxing Day, while academy graduates Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho are in great form also.

Ten Hag is keen to add a sprinkling of experience to his squad without increasing the average age further, given that is one of his main concerns regarding the current cohort. At 26-years-old, De Jong might be the perfect fit and after two years may finally reunite with his former Ajax boss.