Rio Ferdinand was doubtful that simply signing a new defensive-midfielder would be enough to turn Manchester United’s fortunes around and it seems that Erik ten Hag agrees with him considering his first top transfer target as manager.
United have been crying out for a new defensive-midfielder for years now, but every time a transfer window has come around, the need for one was neglected and lavish spending went to more glamorous areas of the pitch. With disastrous results.
While Scott McTominay and Fred both have their qualities, neither are suited to playing the disciplined holding role and the one player they did have suited to the position — Nemanja Matic —couldn’t be relied upon to play every week in the twilight of his career. Now, Matic has left the club.
With Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata also out the door, United’s midfield options have reduced even further and reinforcements in the middle of the park have become all the more crucial. Thankfully, the club have realised this and signing at least one new player in the position is now a priority.
A defensive-midfielder was inserted as their early top priority, yet their early targets look nigh-on impossible to sign. Declan Rice is a non-starter due to West Ham’s refusal to sell and Kalvin Phillips is attracting interest from Manchester City, with a move also made more difficult by Leeds avoiding relegation.
Since then, no alternatives have come to light and all has gone quiet on the defensive-midfielder front. Instead, the focus has turned to Frenkie de Jong. Ten Hag has identified the Dutchman, with whom he enjoyed so much success alongside at Ajax, as the perfect player to help transform United’s midfield.
With De Jong having the ability on the ball and the experience of working under Ten Hag, he would no doubt help the new manager imprint his style of football quicker on the squad — even though he isn’t the defensive-midfielder that United need.
However, United great Ferdinand said last year that he believes it will take more than just the defensive-midfielder that everyone is clamouring for to get United back up the table. The former centre-back said that the ‘structure of the team’ needs to change and Ten Hag appears to agree; the signing of De Jong would certainly be a big step in doing so.
“We’ve all cried out, all of the Man United fanbase are saying a defensive midfielder’s needed,” Ferdinand said after United’s dreadful defeat to Leicester early in the season just gone. “Watching the last few games I don’t even think that player covers over the cracks.
“I just think no player, no one player can absolutely change everything if the structure of the team isn’t working to the fundamentals or has no foundation.”
Ferdinand’s criticisms have turned out to be quite prescient, as Ten Hag appears to be prioritising De Jong, who could make a seismic change in how United play football, rather than a defensive-midfielder.
It would be a huge slice of fortune if United are able to sign the talented 25-year-old. Despite only moving to Barcelona in 2019, the cash-strapped Catalonians appear to want to sell him this summer as he is one of their few expendable assets that can still fetch a high price. Due to their financial situation, Barca will have to raise funds through sales if they are to make any additions in the market.
De Jong did seem set on staying at the Camp Nou regardless but it may be a matter taken out of his hands. A lack of Champions League football at Old Trafford does play against United, but working with Ten Hag again may prove too alluring for De Jong to pass up.