challenging start | 

Q&A: The key issues facing Manchester United amid very slow rebuild

United players who were not involved for their countries earlier this month will return for pre-season training on Monday.

Erik ten Hag has taken over as Manchester United manager (Manchester United Handout)

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer

Erik ten Hag faces a challenging start to life as Manchester United manager given no new faces have arrived at a club where the Glazer family’s latest dividends payment has fuelled fan discontent.

Frustration and anger has been high around Old Trafford for a while and those emotions have been compounded by the owners taking a large chunk of the £11million payout due on Friday.

United’s summer rebuild has been slow and pre-season gets under way on Monday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the state of play at the club.

What has been wrong at United?

Manchester United endured a miserable 2021/22 campaign (Steven Paston/PA)

Last season United’s unbalanced, underperforming squad stumbled home to their lowest ever Premier League points tally, shipping goals aplenty and offering precious little in terms of promise. Off the field, there is unrelenting disdain for the Glazer family given the debt, dividends and mismanagement that followed their controversial takeover in 2005. Protests against the owners have punctuated that time and their part in the botched European Super League coup only added fuel to that fire, with the recently-formed fan group The 1958 leading renewed protests against them.

Are the Glazers feeling the pressure?

Manchester United fans have stepped up protests against the Glazer family (Martin Rickett/PA)

The owners certainly seemed to in April 2021 during the ferocious backlash to the the Super League. Co-chairman Joel Glazer acknowledged the “need for change” and better communication as he publicly apologised, with United setting up a fan advisory board and putting a fan share scheme in motion. United intend to make the latter a reality, but that is yet to launch. Furthermore, the Florida-based owners have gone quiet again, so Richard Arnold, who replaced much-criticised Ed Woodward in February, is the England-based face of the club. Protests were planned outside the chief executive’s house last weekend until he surprised those fans at his local pub, where he faced questions about a variety of topics. Arnold was surreptitiously recorded saying the Glazers are “not frightened of people” protesting against them.

What do things look like on the football front?

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Former Ajax boss Ten Hag is charged with turning things around at a club that is preparing for Europa League football after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s interim replacement Ralf Rangnick failed in his Champions League quest. Football director John Murtough clearly made a mistake appointing the outspoken German, whose two-year consultancy role has been scrapped, and has kept in close contact with Ten Hag since a deal was struck. Murtough is Ten Hag’s main point of contact having seen Woodward previously muddy the waters, with Arnold telling fans: “I’m going to do my bit with John to make sure the money is there.” ‘Significant’ and ‘sizeable’ are the kind of adjectives being used to describe the transfer budget.

What is the state of play with the squad?

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Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard all left at the end of their deals. Back-up goalkeeper Dean Henderson has agreed to join Nottingham Forest on loan and the departures of other peripheral figures will surely follow. But the lack of any movement the other way has caused unease, with Murtough leading the push for players on top of streamlined scouting and recruitment structures.

Manchester United are pushing to sign Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong (David Davies/PA)

United’s main focus is strengthening the midfield given the departures and issues in that area over recent years, with conversations continuing in their pursuit of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong. It is understood a box-to-box midfielder is seen as key to Ten Hag’s rebuild. Christian Eriksen is a player United would like to bolster their options, while their push for attacking improvements has led to discussions about a move for Ajax winger Antony among others.

Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane had challenging seasons (Martin Rickett/PA)

There is hope within Old Trafford that United’s defenders can kick on after a poor season – but that does not mean improvements are not being considered. While Jurrien Timber looks set to stay at Ajax, there is admiration for his defensive partner Lisandro Martinez. But to reinforce at centre-back the club would like to clear one of their squad’s most bloated areas. The likes of Axel Tuanzebe, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are in the shop window.

What does United’s pre-season schedule look like?

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Ten Hag is keen to see how his players shape up and sounds willing to give previously out-of-favour individuals a chance. Those who were not involved in international football are due to report for pre-season training on Monday, with the remaining players joining up with the squad at a later date. United kick off the Ten Hag era in Thailand against rivals Liverpool in a Bangkok friendly on July 12, before playing three matches in Australia, a game in Norway and rounding pre-season off with an Old Trafford friendly against Rayo Vallecano.

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