Manchester United transfers: Ten Hag pushes De Jong interest as Kante move mooted
Manchester United head into this summer window prioritizing central midfield, with two additions on the agenda due to the departures of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Following the arrival of Erik ten Hag, Frenkie de Jong was pushed to the fore.
Ten Hag has been pushing United to consider signing De Jong after sharing a great working relationship with the Ajax midfielder. De Jong was instrumental in the Ajax side that reached the 2019 Champions League semi-finals.
Barcelona’s financial troubles have made the prospect of a sale plausible and manager Xavi Hernandez has admitted he will look into the “economic situation at the club” with regards to De Jong, a player he loves. Barcelona are resisting a cut-price deal, with an €80m price tag announced. It would be a significant part of United’s transfer budget which could give Ten Hag doubts.
An exact limit has not been set, but the general operation foresees a possible outlay of £120m, depending on how the deals are structured. United have let it be known that there will be restrictions on his potential spending even with the appointment of a new manager. Ten Hag, director of football John Murtough and general manager Richard Arnold have all underlined their sense of the “potential” of the current squad in recent public communications. Ten Hag wanted to make this point publicly at his first press conference.
Sales would complete the pot, with Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe expected to be in the market. Dean Henderson could go there but it could be loaned out. Alex Telles is known to want more playing time so he should look into options and United are reportedly considering selling Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has had a difficult season. But United need to improve on a record which has only seen Daniel James sold for a profit in recent years.
De Jong’s preference is a crucial factor with United unable to offer Champions League football. The 25-year-old’s post on Instagram midweek, a message to Barcelona fans to work hard ‘to do better next season’, however, was not taken as a definitive sign that he will stay. in Catalonia.
For United, the example of Donny van de Beek cannot be ignored. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick saw his physique as a problem, others thought United’s scale was a shock. Van de Beek could rightly argue that the United squad was not built for a player of his style and the arrival of Ten Hag could change that. Van de Beek and De Jong represent two players who fully understand the demands of the new manager in possession and out of possession.
Ten Hag wants better ball control in midfield which De Jong could provide. He could replace Pogba but not the long-required defensive midfielder, especially as Matic leaves. There is the prospect of a transfer for Kalvin Phillips, but that deal is further complicated by the fact that Manchester City are now credited with interest.
Lines of dialogue are open on Declan Rice, but West Ham’s resistance to the sale is firm and United are unlikely to sanction two marquee signings unless there is a major exit.
It is in this context that a move for N’Golo Kante is considered. Kante’s future at Chelsea is uncertain and sources claim he should be made available at a reduced price due to his contract expiring in 12 months and Thomas Tuchel’s desire to freshen up his midfield.
United have already been offered Kante, in 2020 when Frank Lampard was in charge, but there was no consensus on an approach, with some staff believing the France World Cup winner’s best days were behind him. Kante then shone in the Champions League final but, at 31, his injury record has worsened. A groin problem delayed his start to the season and he suffered various muscle issues.
In the season just ended, he started 21 Premier League games and Tuchel recently said: “He is our key, key, key player, but key, key, key players have to be on the pitch. , and if he only plays 40% of the games, maybe it’s a miracle that we come in third place. He’s our Mo Salah, our Virgil van Dijk, our Kevin De Bruyne. He’s him who makes the difference and if you only have him at 40%, it’s a huge problem.”
After a campaign in which several first-team members missed games due to heavy complaints, United would have to balance the advantages of Kante’s quality and experience against his chances of playing regularly.
Drawing from Ajax, Edson Alvarez, the 24-year-old Mexico international, is another player highly rated by Ten Hag. Alvarez is a defensive midfielder who can play as a centre-back.
Aurélien Tchouameni, the 22-year-old Monaco midfielder touted as Kante’s successor in the France squad, has not been actively pursued by United. Real Madrid and Liverpool are vying for his signature.
It is believed that Ten Hag wants to sort out the midfield first before moving on to other positions. He does not want to commit funds to a striker or a central defender who would then damage options within his team.
Attack is next on the list, with Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood dropped from the squad Solskjaer led in 2021-22.
Talks have been held over Benfica centre-forward Darwin Nunez, whose planned summer transfer will be overseen by Jorge Mendes. Nunez was represented by Edgardo Lasalvia, a longtime associate from his native Uruguay, but Mendes struck a deal to take over. Mendes reportedly told Benfica he could get €80m for Nunez.
Whether United think Nunez is worth the investment remains to be seen. As with Barcelona and De Jong, United are willing to wait rather than being forced to pay the initial request. The Mendes aspect of the Nunez negotiations is interesting in light of Cristiano Ronaldo’s continued presence. Ten Hag spoke enthusiastically about Ronaldo.
Harry Kane was a potential target, but Tottenham Hotspur’s qualification for the Champions League was a game-changer. Kane, once willing to consider his options this summer, is now very happy with Spurs, especially with Antonio Conte in charge. Conte will remain at Tottenham next season, with Daniel Levy agreeing to a £150million investment to pursue signings.
Sources believe Levy was stung by the events of last summer, when Kane pushed to leave and the manager search dragged on, and decided to back Conte on the strongest terms. With that in mind, Tottenham represent as good a trophy chance as anywhere for Kane, which has always been his primary motivation. He shares a strong bond with the club’s Italian head coach and appreciates his demanding style.
Christopher Nkunku is a different type of striker, but United could make an approach if RB Leipzig soften their stance on his departure. Leipzig are adamant the 24-year-old, who mainly plays on the wing, will not be sold this summer. Ralf Rangnick has strongly recommended Nkunku to United.
There has been a lot of talk about possible centre-back targets but the talks are only expected to progress once the other positions are sorted. Ten Hag has great admiration for Jurrien Timber and United are aware of what it would take to secure him. United have also scouted Villarreal defender Pau Torres.
Responsibility in this market lies with Murtough, with United finally aligning a football executive on financial decisions. Matt Judge, head of negotiations at United, is still working to facilitate a transfer until an expected July departure date.
(Top photos: Getty Images)