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red or dead With a bloated, demotivated, Frankenstein squad, Man United face their biggest rebuild yet

Old Trafford chiefs must have sale of the century this summer to create a leaner, meaner squad

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The immediate futures of up to 12 Manchester United players are in doubt, five of whom are out of contract at the end of the season, including Paul Pogba. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters

The immediate futures of up to 12 Manchester United players are in doubt, five of whom are out of contract at the end of the season, including Paul Pogba. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters

Paul Pogba of Manchester United battles for possession with Aymeric Laporte of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Manchester, England

Paul Pogba of Manchester United battles for possession with Aymeric Laporte of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on March 06, 2022 in Manchester, England

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The immediate futures of up to 12 Manchester United players are in doubt, five of whom are out of contract at the end of the season, including Paul Pogba. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters

It is a reflection of the mismanagement at Manchester United in the nine years since Alex Ferguson retired that a club who have been continuously rebuilding over that period approach this summer requiring their biggest overhaul yet.

That United head into a critical transfer window still unclear about who their next manager will be and with doubts over the futures and suitability of so many players only reinforces the scale of the job in hand at a club who cannot keep repeating the same mistakes.

After a succession of failures, no decision is more important than getting the right manager in and that process is gathering pace.

In turn, there has to be a dramatic improvement in the quality, profile and character of players recruited, with a clear identity and cohesive structure in mind.

But, running parallel to that, is the need for a complete rethink in terms of how United approach selling and moving on players.

Roy Keane probably encapsulated the feelings of many angry fans when their former captain suggested there were “five or six players” who should never play for the club again in the wake of Sunday’s 4-1 surrender to derby rivals Manchester City.

Yet the success of any rebuild this summer may hinge on how well the club wheel and deal, all the more so if they miss out on Champions League qualification and the revenues Europe’s premier club competition derives and have to operate with a reduced budget.

While City, Liverpool and Chelsea have often acted swiftly and decisively when it comes to offloading players and deliberately kept competition and motivation high in the process, United – petrified of decisions coming back to haunt them – have lacked backbone, foresight and imagination.

The repercussions have been severe, with interim manager Ralf Rangnick inheriting a bloated, demotivated, Frankenstein squad assembled by four different managers and left to wrestle with the disillusionment and unrest that has festered as a consequence.

Lucrative new long-term contracts have been dished out where they were not deserved in some cases (think Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo), prematurely in other situations (Anthony Martial, Dean Henderson and Eric Bailly) and players kept on that rival clubs, eschewing sentiment, would long ago have discarded (Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic, for example).

Financially, it has cost United fortunes, denied them valuable funds to reinvest in the squad and left them stuck with overpaid players who no longer make the grade and often end up leaving on free transfers.

That cannot happen this summer. United, finally, belatedly, have to get ruthless and, while there will be a limit to how many players they can realistically offload and sign in one window, they must be brave and be willing to carry a leaner, meaner squad into next season.

Only four players who did not come through the club’s academy have been moved on for a profit since Ferguson exited – Javier Hernandez, Daley Blind, Chris Smalling and Daniel James – and just eight players have fetched fees in excess of £10 million in that time.

United desperately need to clear space on a soaring wage bill and release funds that could be put towards new signings. The immediate futures of up to 12 players are in doubt, five of whom are out of contract at the end of the season, including Paul Pogba. Others, such as Martial, Henderson, Bailly and Donny van de Beek, could generate decent money in sales.

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Perhaps the arrival of a new chief executive in Richard Arnold and the greater autonomy given to football director John Murtough will see United become more decisive and agile in the market when it comes to offloading players.

But they are still answerable to the Glazers and the January transfer window once again provided evidence of United’s owners setting unrealistic demands that rival clubs were simply unwilling to meet.

Newcastle refused to bow to United’s request for a £12 million (€14.5m) survival bonus and £2.5 million (€3m) loan fee for Jesse Lingard. Martial joined Sevilla on loan only after United waived a loan fee and the France striker accepted a cut to his £200,000-a-week wages.

The enormous wages United pay to players have certainly been a contributing factor behind the club struggling to extract decent fees for players who are out of form or favour or who are ageing.

There has also been a general reluctance to sell higher-profile players, even when they have underperformed or the signs are that their best days are behind them. That has been true with Pogba and it was also the case with goalkeeper David De Gea who, before a dramatic return to form this season, was in a sustained slump when he was awarded a new four-year contract in September 2019.

Contrast that with Chelsea’s decision to sell Eden Hazard to Real Madrid for £130 million or Liverpool landing £145 million from Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho.

Buying better will be essential for United’s next manager. But the club must also stop hoarding players and regenerate the squad with greater urgency and precision.

Stay or go? United’s squad decisions

KEEP
Goalkeepers:
David De Gea, Tom Heaton
Defenders: Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw
Midfielders: Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Fred
Forwards: Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga, Marcus Rashford, Amad Diallo

SELL/RELEASE
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, Lee Grant
Defenders: Eric Bailly, Phil Jones
Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira
Forwards: Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingar

STUCK WITH FOR NOW/LISTEN TO OFFERS FOR
Defenders:
Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles
Midfielders: Donny van de Beek
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo


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