While the English Premier League season has begun, the transfer window is still open. That reality might make things a bit awkward for the managers, but it also gives them a chance to make a few more tweaks to their respective squads. Manchester United and Erik ten Hag, for example, have plenty of work to do.
Long-time soccer fans will remember the Red Devils dominating both England and the continent, but this edition of the club is a bit different. If Matchday 1’s loss to Brighton is any indication, United need to put the pedal to the metal and get some deals done ASAP.
One of those rumored deals is the purchase of Marko Arnautovic, and while he’s certainly a warm body who can play striker, the Austrian’s potential arrival wouldn’t really solve the problem. In fact, it would only confirm that no one within Manchester United’s brass has learned a single lesson over the past decade.
Erik ten Hag worked with Marko Arnautovic years ago and is now reportedly trying to bring him to Manchester United
On paper, Manchester United don’t have many options at striker. Cristiano Ronaldo is a living legend, but he can’t really do anything besides waiting in the box for chances to materialize and reportedly wants to leave Old Trafford. Anthony Martial theoretically claimed the starting job, but he was injured on opening day and, during his time in England, has never really impressed.
With that in mind, manager Erik ten Hag seems ready to rely on his own experiences to bring in an emergency option. United have reportedly made an offer for Marko Arnautovic, who ETH worked with at FC Twente.
To be clear, Arnautovic isn’t exactly a top-tier target. While the Austrian striker did find some success with West Ham, he’s also 33 years old and spent some time in Shanghai before moving to Bologna. He’s not exactly the sort of player who will instantly improve the team. If anything, he’s simply a warm body who the manager feels like he can trust.
From a footballing perspective, his potential arrival is far from inspiring. From an organizational perspective, however, the implications are even worse.
Erik ten Hag is driving the recruitment, which suggests that Manchester United is repeating the mistakes of the past
While modern football has moved away from managers and toward head coaches, the person picking the team has to be involved in recruitment. Manchester United’s transfer business, however, suggests that ten Hag has a bit too much of a say.
Let’s look at the club’s transfer targets from this window. Lisandro Martinez came from Ajax. Frenkie De Jong played for the Dutch giants under ten Hag. Tyrell Malacia is from the Eredivisie. Christian Eriksen isn’t just a known quantity but one who also has Ajax ties. Now, Arnautovic, who ETH has worked with in the past, is on the list.
On August 9, Sky Sports suggested that the Red Devils were dropping their pursuit of the Austrian. Even if that’s true, the fact that they even considered him as an option suggests the club is falling into old patterns.
There’s something to be said for backing a new manager and giving him the tools he needs, but United have fallen into this trap before. By giving each successive manager free rein in the transfer market, the club built a squad with no clear strategy. Players from the previous era simply didn’t fit with the next manager’s vision.
Mark Ogen traced that trajectory in his recent ESPN post. Louis van Gaal brought in the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay. When the Dutchman flopped, Jose Mourinho arrived and landed Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and Alexis Sanchez before things went south.
Then, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United purchased a mismatched collection of players ranging from Donny van der Beek to Harry Maguire. Even the “positive” signings, like Bruno Fernandes, now seem short-sighted and potentially unable to fit in ten Hag’s plans.
Ideally, there should be a director of football guiding the ship and dictating Manchester United’s underlying philosophies. The manager has to have some say in the process, but the players have to fit the club’s vision. That provides continuity, as each successive manager should theoretically mesh with that vision. Will they want a few of their preferred players? Of course, but the foundation of the squad should persist.
The Red Devils, however, aren’t doing that. The club has both a football director and a deputy football director, but it appears that ten Hag is driving the recruiting. Virtually every player the club has bought or even expressed an interest in (barring Adrian Rabiot, which appears to be another panic buy) has the Dutchman’s fingerprints all over it. That could work in the short term, especially if de Jong relents and leaves Barcelona, but it’s not the recipe for long-term success.
With each successive manager, Manchester United supporters have collectively lamented the club’s slide down the table. If their transfer window is any indication, the club hasn’t learned a single lesson. Rather than making the painful steps to build a solid foundation, it’s deja vu all over again.