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Erik Ten Hag's Manchester United Signings Follow Worrying Trend

Erik Ten Hag's Manchester United Signings Follow Worrying Trend
By Eoin Harrington Updated
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It's fair to say that Erik Ten Hag's hit rate of successful signings at Manchester United has blown hot and cold since his arrival at the club last summer.

Lisandro Martinez has been widely regarded as one of the finest centre backs in the league since settling after his move from Ajax and, though starting to show signs of fatigue, Casemiro has been a revelation at the base of United's midfield.

Similarly ageing but still showing signs of the magic which made him a fan favourite at Tottenham, the acquisition of Christian Eriksen on a free transfer last summer can also be chalked up as a success.

Other than those three arrivals, things have been somewhat more mixed for United in the transfer market.

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Antony has shown flashes of brilliance, and there is undoubtedly a talented player in there, but his limitations have frustrated fans, and his dependency on his stronger left foot have earned him criticism. Tyrell Malacia impressed early on in his time at the club, before being surpassed and knocked out of contention by the in-form Luke Shaw last season. With Shaw now on the sidelines, Malacia's injury prevents him from capitalising.

Wout Weghorst's spell at Old Trafford produced only two goals in 31 appearances (Photo: Shutterstock)

The less said about Wout Weghorst the better, while Marcel Sabitzer is a player Manchester United fans are unlikely to remember particularly fondly (or negatively) in years to come.

It is too hard to judge André Onana, Mason Mount, and Rasmus Hojlund this early in their time at the club, so we'll give Ten Hag a roughly 50-50 success rate of signings thus far.


The signings of Onana, Mount, and Hojlund were all completed reasonably early in this summer's transfer window, marking a welcome departure from previous years' business which hinted that United are slowly becoming more competent in the transfer market.

The panicked nature of recent week's rumours, however, suggest that that is not the case - and the players United have been linked with point to a worrying trend emerging under Ten Hag.

Manchester United: Erik Ten Hag developing worrying transfer trend

Rumours on Tuesday emerged linking Manchester United to a surprise move for out-of-favour Spurs midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.


The emergence of Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr as the outstanding Spurs midfielders has seen Dane Hojbjerg fall out of favour with new coach Ange Postecoglou, and United are reported to be interested in bringing the defensive midfielder to Old Trafford.

Later reports from Fabrizio Romano suggested that United are exploring a move for Lyon left-back Nicolas Tagliafico in order to shore up the position in the absence of Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia.

Nicolas Tagliafico and manager Erik Ten Hag during their time together at Ajax (Photo: Shutterstock)

Tagliafico played under Ten Hag at Ajax, and was a key part of the team which reached the 2019 UEFA Champions League semi-finals. Similarly, Hojbjerg made his breakthrough at Bayern Munich in 2014 after a spell with the side's reserves, whose head coach at the time was none other than Erik Ten Hag.


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And, just like Hojbjerg and Tagliafico, United's big summer signing in goal, André Onana, was a first-choice player for Ten Hag at Ajax.

As were Antony and Lisandro Martinez. And Frenkie de Jong, who Manchester United spent much of last summer in pursuit of. Sofyan Amrabat, who has been persistently linked with a move to Manchester this summer, played under Erik Ten Hag during his time at Utrecht.

There emerges a worrying pattern of the limited amount of talent recognition at Manchester United. Perhaps it is not a Ten Hag problem per se, and more one of a lack of a capable football direction further up in the club - nonetheless, the scouting process at United seems severely limited to players previously linked to the head coach.


Even some of the players who did not play under Ten Hag have come up against him during his time in the Netherlands, with Mason Mount playing for Vitesse for the 2017-18 season - scoring his first goal against Ten Hag's Utrecht - and Tyrell Malacia a regular for Rotterdam before his arrival at Old Trafford.

That leaves Christian Eriksen (ex-Ajax, but before Ten Hag's time), Wout Weghorst (Dutch), and the trio of Casemiro, Rasmus Hojlund, and Marcel Sabitzer, with no links to Ten Hag's past coaching career.

6 August 2023; Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag during the pre-season friendly match between Manchester United and Athletic Bilbao at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

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Contrast that with his compatriots at rival clubs, and a trend becomes clear which throws doubt on the effectiveness of Manchester United's talent ID and scouting processes.

Since joining Liverpool as manager in 2015, Jurgen Klopp has not signed a single player who played for him at a previous club. Pep Guardiola has signed only one ex-player since taking over as Manchester City manager in 2016 (kudos if you knew off the top of your head that it was ex-Barcelona man Nolito).

There's nothing necessarily wrong with signing players that a manager is familiar with and, of course, it's a better policy to sign players who fit with the coach's playing style than the aimless big-money moves Manchester United have made in recent years.

But it's hard not to see an issue when your two main rivals have only pulled such a move once between them in the past eight years, and you've pulled it three times in little over one year (with more potentially on the way).

The amount of control given to Erik Ten Hag over Manchester United's transfer business is plain to see. Would any director of football truly have recommended that the club go all in for Antony for the eye-watering sum they did, unless the manager had pushed for such a move?

There have been success stories, such as the likes of Lisandro Martinez, but the trend is beginning to trickle down to Ten Hag pursuing players who have run out of favour at other clubs, leading to questions as to whether they are truly good enough to play for Manchester United.

Of course, there's every chance that this summer's Manchester United signings could work out perfectly. Onana has his doubters but he's proven himself well capable in the opening games, while Mount and Hojlund's injury problems will prevent us from casting judgment just yet.

But, should they not, there are questions to be answered about just how small the pool of players United seem to be scouting from is, and how the signings made by Ten Hag may begin to hold the club back from where he himself hopes to bring them.

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