Manchester United maintain interest in De Jong and Bellingham, with Kudus and Ramos also on wishlist


Manchester United are still interested in Frenkie de Jong and Jude Bellingham, two midfielders the club have tried to sign in the past two years.

Erik ten Hag is a big admirer of both players and the United manager wants to continue bringing world-class players to Old Trafford as he seeks to restore their status as an elite club.

United know that competition for the 19-year-old Bellingham would be especially tough, particularly after his starring role in England’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals. Plenty of Europe’s top clubs, including Liverpool, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, are keen on the Borussia Dortmund midfielder, who United made a serious effort to sign before he left Birmingham City to move to Germany two years ago.

United invited Bellingham and his family to Carrington, where he met coaches, the then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Sir Alex Ferguson. United felt they had been tracking the youngster longer than any other club and made a detailed presentation to Bellingham’s family. Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund did the same and the Bellinghams chose the latter as they felt he would get more first-team minutes in the Bundesliga. Given his rapid progress in the two years since, they can feel vindicated in that decision.

United have continued to watch Bellingham and Ten Hag was deeply impressed with his performances for England in Qatar. It is understood the United manager felt Bellingham’s displays were on a different level to what they have been for Dortmund this season. Signed for an initial £25 million in 2020, Bellingham is likely to attract a larger fee than the £73 million ($88.7m) that United paid Dortmund for Jadon Sancho in July 2021.

Jadon Sancho Erik Ten Hag

(Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

The Old Trafford side spent most of the 2022 summer transfer window chasing De Jong — who was Ten Hag’s No 1 target — and a transfer fee was agreed between United and Barcelona for the Netherlands midfielder. Barcelona felt they had enough options in midfield without De Jong. Their favoured midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi all started for Spain at the World Cup, and they had also signed Franck Kessie from AC Milan.

United made several trips to Barcelona to try to complete a deal for De Jong, which was complicated by financial agreements between Barcelona and the player, and that he was not publicly expressing a desire to leave.

De Jong was a peripheral figure for Barcelona at the start of this season, with manager Xavi preferring to play Kessie, a player he had pushed to sign. The Dutchman has played his way back into the team though, showing exactly why Ten Hag wants him. He considers De Jong to be a world-class talent and has the right type of character to fit in United’s side.

Frenkie de Jong, Chelsea

(Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

De Jong is now a mainstay in the Barcelona midfield and is likely to be in the team that takes on United in the Europa League knockout play-off round in February. He, along with Pedri, Gavi, and Busquets, have all played more than 1,100 minutes this season, while Kessie has only featured for 485.

Ten Hag thinks that Casemiro is a perfect example of a player who wanted a new challenge by switching to Old Trafford — and is delighted with the Brazil international’s impact.

Casemiro stated that he had won everything at Real Madrid, wanted to play in the Premier League and for Manchester United. He has not regretted that decision and United are thrilled with Casemiro, who is often the first player in the gym and trains with an intensity that sets a great example to others.

Ten Hag knows that United have to close the gap to the top English teams, including the champions and cross-city rivals Manchester City. He worked with City manager Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich and the pair have spoken, sparingly, since Ten Hag moved to Manchester.

Ten Hag has thrown himself into the job and has had little time off — he estimates that he’s had between two and three free days since he started. The Dutchman is happy living in Manchester with his family. He cycles around the area where he lives, shops locally and plays golf, usually at the Mere club in Cheshire.

Ten Hag and his staff are always on the lookout for players that can improve the club and have employed a number of new analysts. Though the United manager thinks Anthony Martial can be a complete striker if he remains fit, a forward is a priority and Ten Hag likes Goncalo Ramos, the Benfica player who scored a hat-trick after replacing Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal’s starting line-up at the World Cup.

(Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Benfica’s business model is based on signing and developing young players and selling them on at a vast profit, usually to a Premier League club, but they are still in the Champions League and top of Portugal’s Primeira Liga.

They have no desire to cash in on Ramos imminently, especially as they sold the Uruguay striker Darwin Nunez to Liverpool in June. Ten Hag admires the skill and dynamism of Mohammed Kudus, the 22-year-old Ghana star who he managed at Ajax.

United know that signing players that suit their requirements in a January window is difficult. The club will not go for a bargain option who is not of a sufficient quality to improve the squad, while any deal has to be affordable in the context of the club’s finances that have been stretched by the pandemic.

The Old Trafford club spent heavily in the last transfer window and recruitment will not be straightforward. There is the bigger issue of who owns the club, as any potential new owners would decide their transfer policy. In Ten Hag’s mind he has recruited well — Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez, Christian Eriksen, Tyrell Malacia and Antony were signed in the summer — and he knows the type of players he wants to improve United.

There would be few complaints from fans if any of Bellingham, De Jong, Ramos or Kudus signed for Manchester United, especially if they were to have a similar impact to Casemiro.

(Top photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)


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