Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag pursuit, summer transfer budget and Mauricio Pochettino latest

Manchester United will resume their quest for a top-four finish in the Premier League this season when they face Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.

United, who were beaten 4-2 by the Foxes back in October, will resume their campaign two places and four points adrift of the final Champions League berth. Arsenal currently occupy fourth-place and still have a game in hand on Ralf Rangnick’s side, meaning they are the favourites to be playing in Europe on Tuesday and Wednesday nights next season.

But regardless of whether or not United secure a top-four berth or not, they have the small matter of appointing a new manager this summer. Erik ten Hag has been interviewed for the role and is the favourite to succeed Rangnick, but nothing has yet yet been agreed or settled upon just yet.

READ MORE: Manchester United proved Louis van Gaal right with bizarre Paul Pogba decision

On Thursday, MEN Sport’s chief United writer, Samuel Luckhurst, hosted a Q&A as he answered some of the burning questions that United’s supporters had for him. As you can imagine, the managerial situation and Ajax chief Ten Hag were hot topics.

Q: Have United conducted interviews like they did with Ten Hag during the international break with other candidates as well? If yes, can you name those candidates? If no, can you tell how much longer it’ll take before interviews are done?

SL: I was off last week and if I had concrete information on the next manager process, as I did two weeks ago when I wrote Ten Hag was the preferred candidate, it would be detailed in a story. It is essentially a three-man shortlist, at the very most, and Luis Enrique is unlikely to walk away from the Spain job. The timing of the Qatar World Cup counts against United where Enrique is concerned, even though he has longed to coach in England one day.

I would still be surprised if it’s anyone other than Ten Hag or Mauricio Pochettino.

Q: With Harry Maguire under scrutiny again, could you see the new manager relieving him of captain duties or do you think they will keep him as captain due to his price tag and confidence level at the moment, as well as to not cause fractions between him, Maguire and other english players? Also does David de Gea have something to worry about, as regards to Ten Hag preferring a ‘keeper with the ability of playing out from the back?

SL: It would be advisable for the next manager to appoint a new captain and is certainly foreseeable. It’s unlikely anyone at United will undermine Maguire now, particularly as they are trying to finish fourth, but his best form comes for his country and he is not captain of England. His fee is irrelevant now as the man who signed him is long gone. Maguire gets on with the other English players, unsurprisingly, but if the next manager were to bend to the will of, say, Luke Shaw, then he shouldn’t be the United manager.

De Gea’s an interesting one as Ajax wanted Dean Henderson on loan. The crowd who dislike English players who play for an English club (work that one out) took umbrage at the mere suggestion Henderson could start next season for United a couple of months ago. Yet it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Enrique has actually softened the potential call by bombing De Gea out of the Spain squad and, even though he’s been United’s player of the season, his limitations (staying on his line, not distributing effectively) are still apparent from time to time.

Q: I wanted to ask about how much longer will the manager process take and what’s left for them to do except to interview Pochettino (some reports say we have already spoken to him in the last couple of weeks), considering Enrique and Julen Lopetegui are out of the equation?

SL: As I wrote in January, United want to settle/secure a choice before the end of the season and that is still possible. There might not be an official announcement but they had a gentleman’s agreement with Mourinho in February 2016, so these things can be sorted early.

If they opt for Ten Hag, I’d imagine Ajax would want it to be kept under wraps as they are going for a domestic double, but these things often leak.

Q: ‘Im just wondering how United are expecting the managerial process to play out now. Are they expecting to be finished with it any time soon, will we get an announcement before the season is up, have there been any updates this week on who is likely to get it, and have United discussed transfers with them? I was wondering as we’ve seen links to players like [Harry] Kane, who might indicate Pochettino, and Antony, who might indicate Ten Hag. Have you also heard who Ten Hag would like to bring with him to United coach wise, if he gets the job?

SL: I addressed some of this in the previous reply, so hopefully that sheds some light on the matter for you. Personally, I’m always reluctant to set timeframes with stories as you can play yourself into trouble. Recruitment would obviously be a key aspect of any discussion with a potential manager.

England star Harry Kane is being linked with a move to Old Trafford.
England star Harry Kane is being linked with a move to Old Trafford.

The Kane chatter might just be posturing. United have to be seen to be in for a major player at a time where their pull in the market could be weak. They’ve also set a precedent with the 804 right-backs. It is rare that United say they are not in for a player at this time of year. Any firm names I’m made aware of are written in a story.

Q: I’d like to ask you about the current United players who have graduated from the academy. This has been my personal observation over the last few years, but I have seen the likes of Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard possess this attitude of reacting badly if someone is critical of their performances. Also another thing I have observed is having of this attitude of self entitlement of being a player of MUFC. My question to you is: Am I reading too much or would you agree with my observations. If so, do you this another area where MUFC need to improve whilst bedding their future academy players into the first team?

SL: You’re not at all. I’m not referring to the names you have mentioned but I have personally encountered issues with some players, directly and indirectly, over criticising them. One player’s still got me blocked on Twitter and another on Instagram. I met the relative of a player one time because my criticism had been ‘red flagged’ by the player’s media team. When a player of said player’s prominence has a media team, that in itself is a red flag!

I did a piece in the summer about what it can be like dealing with United players but the culture in the dressing room is not right, however way you look at it. Many are thin-skinned, some just don’t have the mentality and others cannot handle the pressure.

Q: I wanted to ask whether Pochettino has had a formal interview with United or is it limited to just third party dialogues? We know Ten Hag had that interview last week, has the same been done for Pochettino?

SL: The Pochettino story was reported in France, albeit not by one of the usual outlets who do those stories. I’d rather hear what Pochettino has to say about it tomorrow (Friday) (if asked) at his press conference.

Q: How much longer do you think the board will take to come to a final decision on the appointment of the next manager?

I still think United will have settled/secured their choice before the end of the season. This international break was effectively a transfer window for them, as we discussed on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, so it was reassuring United then actually interviewed Ten Hag.

Q: Do you think the ex-united pros are trying to influence the board in order to get Pochettino? If you go by the statements made by Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and others, or is it their own feelings because Gary for sometime has backed Pochettino the hardest and loudest? Do you think the Glazers have made up their mind or still going about with the process. I would personally prefer Pochettino or Ten Hag.

SL: I’ve not seen all of the statements as I’ve been off for most of the last two weeks. Ferdinand did an interview (I still cannot understand why media outlets get former footballers to pretend they are journalists) with Pochettino the other week, so is bound to gravitate towards him.

I don’t necessarily disagree with them on Pochettino. I still think, despite his waning stock and the result at the Bernabeu, he would be more suitable than Ten Hag, out of the two of them. My personal pick would be Enrique but it just seems like a non-starter for the summer.

The Glazers aren’t conducting the process because they don’t know enough about football to do it. The football figures are conducting the process.

Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Erik ten Hag are amongst the favourites for the job.
Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Erik ten Hag are amongst the favourites for the job.

Q: What day to day role will Rangnick have at the club next season? Will he act as a mentor to Darren Fletcher and John Murtough, or is his role much more reserved?

SL: I don’t think they have ironed out what Rangnick’s day-to-day role will be as he’s still busy coaching the players. Supporters deserve some clarity, though, and Rangnick needs to be more open again now the season is certain to end trophyless.

Q: How many players united will sign this year and which players will they target to get?

SL: I can see them signing at least four players but certain incomings will be dependent on what the next manager makes of certain wantaways.

Q: Do you know why Ten Hag is the frontrunner as things stand? Is it because he is the preferred candidate or because of Pochettino’s unavailability?

SL: Pochettino almost certainly will be available because PSG are likely to sack him. I wrote why Ten Hag is favoured by United two weeks ago.

Q: I’ve see a few people suggesting that United need to go down the Arsenal route in terms of recruitment, but I don’t think that’s needed due to the size of club and difference in budget. I really believe we can leapfrog Arsenal in a season or two if the right level/amount of players are brought in. What are your thoughts on the comparison and is there any truth to the talk of limited budget of net £100million, because in the past the new manager tends to get the funds to put their stamp on the squad.

SL: I actually wrote a piece today advising United do something similar to Arsenal! I think there’s merit in targeting players who aren’t going to cost £70million+. The lesser the fee, the lesser the pressure on the player. In hindsight, United should have gone for Konate or Upamecano in 2019 – young, athletic centre-backs – to build a long-term defence around but they wanted someone more proven and Maguire was always going to cost in excess of £70million.

United need to scout smartly and there are figures at the club (eg. Marcel Bout and Mick Court) who need to justify their existence. Bout has been head of global scouting for nearly six years yet the hit-rate is little better than when he was assisting Louis van Gaal on targets. Court vetoed some of Mourinho’s suggestions in 2018.

I doubt United’s budget would be capped at £100m, especially if they finish outside the top-four. They always spend big after not qualifying for the Champions League but there is a budget (usually £150million).

Q: Considering Bruno Fernandes’ contract renewal, Cristiano Ronaldo probably staying, and Paul Pogba’s image being used by United on the poster for the summer tour, does it hint that a managerial appointment has probably already been made or communicated to the players? Are we nearing the end game with the Ten Hag saga, and do you see any credibility in Jaap Stam or Robin van Persie returning with him?

SL: I wouldn’t read too much into the tour promo shot. I’ve lost count of the amount of times images are used of players in a new kit before they are sold by various clubs. It was still daft of the club to use Pogba but, as cynical as it sounds, it might sell tickets to the gullible.

Fernandes was always staying and it’s a bit strange United rushed to reward him with a new contract when he was tied to the club until 2026, effectively. His performances haven’t been good this season, either, but advisers love the misleading ‘goal contributions’ stat-padding. If United aren’t in the Champions League next season then Ronaldo is far from certain of sticking around.

It’s inevitable former Dutch players were going to get linked as an ‘assistant’ to Ten Hag. Solskjaer warmed to the prospect of his old teammate Jordi Cruyff becoming a technical director at United a few years ago. Has Alexander Buttner retired yet?

Q: Are there any updates regarding a new stadium and an updated training ground?

SL: Plans have definitely been drafted up for what could happen to Old Trafford. Not heard anything significant on Carrington.

Q: I’d like to ask you about your personal opinion about Ten Hag. Second question, I’d like to ask how you see next season for United?

SL: I’ve written this before but will try and be as succinct as possible. Ten Hag’s development of young players is an obvious attraction, as is longevity – he has been in post for nearly four-and-a-half years at Ajax. Yet he is not the most qualified coach to oversee United’s biggest squad rebuild in eight years. Ajax have gone out of the Champions League at the group stage two years running and to Benfica in the last 16 since the anomalous season when they were a Lucas Moura shot away from reaching the final.

Erik ten Hag is the favourite to take charge at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag is the favourite to take charge at Old Trafford.

Focal points in Ten Hag’s teams are Premier League rejects Dusan Tadic, Sebastian Haller and Steven Berghuis. The Eredivisie is a flat-track bully league for veterans and a halfway house for precocious players. Playing-wise, Memphis Depay and Donny van de Beek headed in the opposite direction and were duds at United.

The wage bill at Ajax is €95million. At United, it is £284million. Haller is Ajax’s record signing at £20.2million. Paul Pogba was a world record arrival at £89million in 2016. Ajax seem devoid of unmanageable egos. United are teeming with them. The pressure at Ajax is not intense and at United it is.

Second question: ask me during the tour so I can combat jet lag in Bangkok or Melbourne!

Q: I just want to gauge your thoughts on this. I have seen this week that United are being linked with Antony from Ajax (possibly to follow Ten Hag). If true, i think it’s a waste of another £30, maybe £40, million that can be spent on DM, CF or CB, when we have Facundo Pellistri and Amad at the club. Do you think either Amad or Pellistri can break into the squad next year?

SL: Amad was highly regarded at Atalanta and has had some moments with United but he’s had a nightmare at Rangers since he was clawed in the Parkhead bear pit and I thought it was odd at the time United were investing £46million in two teenage forwards on the same day.

The only time I saw Pellistri live he was lively but he cannot establish himself in the Alaves team. The next manager might get a tune out of both of them after Solskjaer didn’t make much of an effort.

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