Man Utd transfer window assessed: What Erik ten Hag got right & where United must improve

It was a mixed transfer window for Manchester United, here’s why...

We look back at a summer of highs and lows for Manchester United in the transfer market. Credit: Getty.We look back at a summer of highs and lows for Manchester United in the transfer market. Credit: Getty.
We look back at a summer of highs and lows for Manchester United in the transfer market. Credit: Getty.

Of all the pressing issues which greeted Erik ten Hag when he was appointed Manchester United manager this summer, revamping the playing squad was undoubtedly the most pertinent.

He had, after all, inherited a United team that had just registered the club’s lowest points tally in a Premier League season, and underwhelmed on a weekly basis in 2021/22.

The first two performances of the new campaign illustrated just how deep the problems run at the club, with Ten Hag charged with re-energising a group of players sorely lacking in confidence and struggling to compete with sides expected to finish well below them.

But to his credit, the United boss has already shown signs he is capable of turning this around, with wins against Liverpool and Southampton followed by a victory against Leicester City on Thursday.

At the heart of the improved displays were Ten Hag signings, with Tyrell Malacia, Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen starting all three, while the additions of Casemiro and Antony will add quality to the side once they’re fully embedded into the team, and Martin Dubravka represents a reliable back-up goalkeeper.

So was this a successful transfer window for United?

There have been signs of optimism from Ten Hag. Credit: Getty.There have been signs of optimism from Ten Hag. Credit: Getty.
There have been signs of optimism from Ten Hag. Credit: Getty.

The transfers completed

United ended the window needing an overhaul in players, something they’ve largely achieved.

Six new faces through the door, coupled with the departures of nine senior figures and loans for seven players in and around the first-team squad, has given this United team a different feeling.

They’ve also added real quality to their ranks. Casemiro, a five-time Champions League winner; Antony, a 22-year-old who has impressed in European competitions; Eriksen, a seasoned Premier League veteran, and Martinez, a defender who has already justified his warrior-like description by Ten Hag.

Indeed, all six of the new recruits are likely to be at the World Cup in Qatar later this year, and Ten Hag can justifiably be pleased with those who have made the move to Old Trafford.

Likewise, the right players have left. Eric Bailly, Edison Cavani, Tahith Chong, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira and Alex Telles simply weren’t producing regularly for United last season or in recent years.

Paul Pogba will continue to divide opinion, but after six relatively underwhelming years at Old Trafford, it was the right decision to move on the Frenchman. Similarly, Dean Henderson’s talents were wasted on the bench last season, and ensuring he was playing somewhere was the most important consideration. That he may still have a future at United is a bonus too.

James Garner completed a deadline-day move to Everton. Credit: Getty.James Garner completed a deadline-day move to Everton. Credit: Getty.
James Garner completed a deadline-day move to Everton. Credit: Getty.

James Garner’s move to Everton is perhaps the transfer which fans will question, but inserting a buy-back clause and sell-on fee at least ensures his future at Old Trafford is not completely at an end.

A step in the right direction

United’s business this summer indicates they are willing to spend money and back their new manager.

An expenditure of over £220m would have been fanciful in previous windows under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho, while Ten Hag’s influence on the summer recruitment is clear, with four signings having previous ties to Dutch football.

There’s also a sense this squad is more capable of playing the brand of football Ten Hag demands, although more work is certainly required on that front, while signing a holding midfielder and winger have addressed two of the longer-term problems with this squad.

United’s new manager also identified the need for a left-footed centre-back - one he got in Martinez - while the addition of Dubravka adds further depth in the goalkeeping department.

Martinez has looked good in recent games. Credit: Getty.Martinez has looked good in recent games. Credit: Getty.
Martinez has looked good in recent games. Credit: Getty.

And although some fans could, perhaps understandably, highlight there are still flaws with this squad, it shouldn’t be overlooked that making too many changes in one summer also has its complications.

Players need time to bed in and adapt, while there’s the simple fact that getting more than six high-profile transfers across the line is difficult for any club, let alone United.

Chaotic finish

Despite that, this has been far from a straightforward window for United, who were left humiliated after the opening two games of the season and many questioned the quality and mentality of the team.

There is still a haphazard feel to United’s dealings, with the club’s scramble to get transfers sorted in the final weeks of the window far from ideal.

Admittedly, clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City completed deadline-day moves, but the division’s preeminent sides got most of their business sorted early in the window, avoiding the chaos which engulfed United in the final weeks of August.

The Frenkie de Jong saga didn’t help either, with the Red Devils left in limbo for long spells of the window as they remained uncertain how that particular deal would pan out. Ultimately, the club failed in their pursuit of the Dutch international, and the switch to Casemiro, an entirely different midfielder, embodies the lack of drawn-out thinking in the market.

So too, does Ten Hag’s level of control over transfers. While backing a manager is important, the new boss has had too much input into moves, and it raises concerns over John Murtough’s planning and suitability for his role as football director.

Remaining problems

There are other concerns with the window, and United remain without the right-back they craved for most of the summer, meaning the unwanted Aaron Wan-Bissaka remains part of Ten Hag’s plans.

In addition, goalkeeper remains an issue, with David de Gea’s distribution already impacting Ten Hag’s desire to build from the back.

There have been other questionable decisions: Why sell Garner after missing out on De Jong? Why loan Ethan Laird and keep Wan-Bissaka? Why stockpile young wingers Amad, Facundo Pellistri, Shola Shoretire and Alejandro Garnacho? Why haven’t Axel Tuanzebe, Phil Jones and Brandon Williams been moved on?

And then there’s Cristiano Ronaldo…

The Ronaldo problem won’t be resolved any time soon. Credit: Getty.The Ronaldo problem won’t be resolved any time soon. Credit: Getty.
The Ronaldo problem won’t be resolved any time soon. Credit: Getty.

The United hierarchy may hope him remaining at Old Trafford quells the reports and speculation which have dominated this summer, but that’s farcical.

Now, Ten Hag is left with a global superstar who’s incapable of playing his brand of football, and will draw the attention of TV cameras every game he remains on the bench.

The Portugal captain also remains the only back-up option to striker Anthony Martial, who has played just 45 minutes of the opening five league games. Indeed, so reluctant is Ten Hag to start with Ronaldo, he named Rashford up front in the last three matches, despite the 24-year-old being better suited to operating from the wing.

The commotion surrounding Ronaldo this summer will undoubtedly bleed into the autumn and winter, and represents Ten Hag’s biggest predicament going forward.

Where does it leave United?

After a hectic, rumour-laiden summer, United can reflect with some pride on a window that has seen them address many of the problems which burdened the team last season.

This squad should be expected to challenge for a Champions League place and easily progress to the next stage of the Europa League before the World Cup in November.

But it emphasises just how severe the problems were at Old Trafford last season that so many areas still need to be resolved.

There have been some optimistic beginnings to the Ten Hag era, but there remains no shortage of difficulties which will continue to impact United in the short and medium term.