Home » C minus: Erik ten Hag’s Man United transfers have not improved the club

C minus: Erik ten Hag’s Man United transfers have not improved the club

by Red Billy

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s impending significant 25% investment into Manchester United is said to come with the proviso that he is allowed to take control of footballing matters.

One of the mooted changes Sir Jim wants to implement immediately is the appointment of a new sporting director. The current incumbent, John Murtough, was never a football man and it is widely accepted that he has allowed manager Erik ten Hag to dictate transfer policy rather than the club having an overarching strategy of its own.

Fans and pundits alike have questioned the wisdom of this as well as the success, or lack of, of Ten Hag’s recruits. As we approach the 18 month mark since the Dutchman took the reins at Old Trafford, here we take a look at every one of his signings, including loans, and rate their success out of 10.

Tyrell Malacia was Ten Hag’s first signing for United. He showed some promise in his first season but was way too raw to be starting XI material. A pre-season injury has ruled him out of any football for months. Success rating: 3/10.

Lisandro Martinez was undoubtedly one of United’s top performers of last season, but he missed the end of 2022/23 and most of the first half of 2023/24 with injury. That is unfortunate, but let’s be generous and say this is a signing that has worked out reasonably well for Ten Hag nonetheless. Success rating: 7/10.

Casemiro looked to be the signing of the century until his first red card for United, but from then on, United fans have their hearts in their mouths every time he goes in for a tackle. This season he has also looked a yard off the pace and a shadow of his former self. The fact that he, too, is out until Christmas is not seen as the loss it would have been last season. Success rating: 4/10.

Christian Eriksen is probably one of Ten Hag’s more successful signings, picked up on a free following his release from Brentford last year. However, he started the season on the subs’ bench, an indication perhaps that the manager himself does not see him as a vital cog in the wheel. Success rating: 6/10.

Last summer’s other signing, Antony, has so far failed spectacularly to live up to his €95 million price tag. Average last season has given way to dire this time around. Success rating: 1/10.

Last season’s first loanee goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka, returned to Newcastle after playing two EFL Cup games. Success rating: 1/10.

Marcel Sabitzer was one of Ten Hag’s January loan deals. He showed flashes of quality but generally underperformed and also picked up a bad injury that ended his loan prematurely. Success rating: 3/10.

Wout Weghorst was surely signed purely because he was known to Ten Hag. A player unable to get into Burnley’s squad, Weghorst was simply not fit for purpose and one of the strangest loan deals ever arranged by the Red Devils. Success rating: 1/10.

Jack Butland was signed on loan to replace Dubravka but never played a minute’s football at United, with Ten Hag preferring Tom Heaton as David de Gea’s backup. A pointless signing. Success rating: 1/10.

This summer, United eagerly snapped up Chelsea’s Mason Mount but he, too, has been a flop so far. Unable to command a place in the starting XI despite several injuries and suspensions, it is hard to see Ten Hag’s plan for the England man and the signing looks like a square peg – round hole mismatch. Success rating: 2/10.

André Onana got off to a bad start at United, but is looking good enough right now without yet having set the world on fire. Success rating: 7/10.

Rasmus Hojlund looks to be a fantastic prospect and could be one of Ten Hag’s rare successes in the transfer market. One caveat though is that United ended up paying €75 million for a player who Atalanta started the summer saying they would not accept less than €45 million for. Success rating: 8/10.

Jonny Evans looked to just be joining in training for a few weeks but the chaotic transfer window and multiple injuries saw him secure a longer term contract. He even started to nail down a starting XI berth until sustaining the injury against Copenhagen that looks to have cruelly robbed him of continuity. Success rating: 6/10.

Sergio Reguilon’s loan was on paper not the worst idea in the world, but you have to ask yourself why Spurs were so happy to let him go to a rival without even a loan fee. Injury proneness and inconsistency have limited his minutes despite two left back injuries and it still beggars belief as to why United simply did not recall Alvaro Fernandez from his loan at Granada. Success rating: 3/10.

Sofyan Amrabat’s loan did not come cheap nor easily. A late arrival on deadline day, missing the start of the season, Amrabat required a €10 million loan fee when he would have been just €24m to buy. A real Ten Hag “must have”, frankly, so far, he has not been worth that amount. Yet to find his feet in the Premier League and even looking overawed in Europe against the likes of Copenhagen, the Moroccan has been a major disappointment. Success rating: 1/10.

Altay Bayindir completes the list and we can’t pass judgement on him as he has not yet played a competitive match for United. Success rating: n/a.

Total score 54/150: 36% success rate.

Whether the blame is placed at the club’s door or that of Ten Hag, at a 36% success rate, the overall transfer policy must be deemed a failure. And it did not come cheap, either; €448 million has been spent on this group of players in loan and transfer fees alone (source: transfermarkt.com).

Some have questioned whether many of these stars have improved United. Is Onana an upgrade on David de Gea? Is Amrabat an upgrade on Fred? Overall, has Casemiro been an improvement on Matic? Will Bayindir be an upgrade on Henderson? Is Malacia better than Fernandez and is Reguilon better than Alex Telles? Have United replaced the likes of Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood with anyone at all?

Too many workmanlike, work-in-progress, past their best or simply free-and-available signings. Arguably Jadon Sancho was the last really big name that United signed (and look how that turned out). Looking toward January, the kind of targets linked with United include OGC Nice’s Jean-Clair Todibo, FC Porto’s Mehdi Taremi and Spurs’ Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. These are hardly names to get fans queueing up for debut match tickets.

Whatever your personal opinion on the likes of Pogba, Sancho, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes or even Romelu Lukaku, they were top signings at the time, probably considered in the world’s top 10 players in their position. Now, with the possible exception of Onana, United’s recruits are nowhere near that level.

Whilst it is a good thing that United move away from the sort of big name, marquee signings that used to get former executive vice chairman Ed Woodward’s juices flowing, like Radamel Falcao, Angel di Maria and Cristiano (the second time), it is not a good thing if United pay way over the top for players who do not raise the bar on what went before.

Just as the stadium has sunk from one of the finest in the world to one struggling for Premier League mediocrity, so has the squad. A radical shift in approach is needed. Urgently.

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