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Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag told he can’t go after top targets until he ships out unwanted stars

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag told he can’t go after top targets until he ships out unwanted stars

Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Mason Mount top the Dutchman’s wish-list but United don’t have the funds without a massive clear out.

Ten Hag accepts that third place in the Premier League and the Carabao Cup was just about as good as it could have got for United last term and is determined to mount more of challenge to Manchester City.

But, like many of his recent predecessors, the former Ajax boss has been hampered by a bloated squad of high-earners, while a protracted takeover also threatens to undermine investment.

Several United players will see their contracts run out at the end of the month on Friday.

Keeper and highest earner David de Gea looks set to end his 12-year stay having failed to sign a new deal, defenders Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe will also depart, while loanees Wout Weghorst and Marcel Sabitzer return to parent clubs Burnley and Bayern Munich, respectively.

But that is the easy bit for Ten Hag, who doesn’t have to worry about who picks up the tab for them.

There are as many as half the first-team squad who are under contract but are not thought to be part of Ten Hag’s long-term plans. If he gets his way, the likes of club captain Harry Maguire, Fred, Scott McTominay, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek, Dean Henderson, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Martial could have played their last games for United.

Sure, many of these players would attract the interest of other Premier League clubs and those on the continent, but — not for the first time — the club is paying the price for overspending in the transfer market.

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According to a study by CIES Football Observatory and published in Forbes magazine, the Old Trafford outfit spent £1.4bn on 33 players in the decade between September 2012 and September 2022.

The researchers, who devised a statistical model to evaluate the actual value of each player, found United had overspent by a total of £208m — the most of the 86 clubs analysed across Europe’s top five leagues.

With high transfer fees come inflated wages and United’s wage bill hit a Premier League record £384.2m in 2021-22 — the highest in the Premier League’s history.

It was fuelled by £200m of signings last summer and, not surprisingly, the figures for the last financial year shows net debt rising 22% to £514.9m with a net loss of £115.5m.

The United board have railed against letting players go without recouping their market value since ex-boss Louis van Gaal’s sanctioned a fire-sale that included Wilfried Zaha going to Crystal Palace for a cut-price £6m, a similar fee paid by West Brom for Jonny Evans, while Burnley snapped up Will Keane for just £2m.

United will have to bite the bullet on some of their out-of-favour stars if deals are to be done to free up cash for their transfer kitty.

But Ten Hag knows that convincing United players the grass can be greener elsewhere is not easy, and it’s even more difficult when it might involve them also taking a pay-cut.

United are struggling to get deals done while rivals are making signings.

They have already been accused of penny-pinching on-going discussions with Chelsea over Mount.

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It threatens to be the back end of the window before enough of their unwanted stars find new clubs and by then Ten Hag might have ripped up that wish-list.

So, in the meantime, free agents, such as Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot, and swap deals, such as Maguire and McTominay plus cash for Rice, could be the order of the day.

  • June 25, 2023