Next month, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Mike Phelan, John Murtough, Ed Woodward and Matt Judge will meet to discuss Manchester United’s transfer plans for 2019.
The rendezvous will occur though the line-up is yet to be finalised, for United are still devoid of a technical director. Phelan was doubling as one during recruitment meetings in the spring and was interested in the role, but Solskjaer preferred him to remain assistant manager.
Murtough, the head of football development, has outlasted the last three permanent United managers and introduced himself as the ‘director of football’ during discussions with agents to assemble the women’s team squad last year.
Planning for the next summer window almost as soon as the previous one closes is laudable forward-planning by United but runs the risk of diluting the significance of the technical director before one has even been appointed. The club have interviewed candidates but some have found the proposed structure to be off-putting.
One candidate had an intermediary speak with United about the post and the way it was described was they would chair a committee, likely made up of former players, who would recommend transfer targets and take decisions on current players’ futures. The shortlist would then be submitted to Woodward and head of corporate development Judge, who would have the final say.
A source connected with said candidate said: “It may explain why anyone with any credibility has walked away from the role.” The last thing United need is a patsy.
It is already patent to supporters which areas of the squad need addressing next year: Left-back, central midfield and the attack. United were still considering a left-back addition after Luke Shaw committed to a five-year contract in October and there was a fleeting discussion about Danny Rose in the summer. Ashley Young, capable of ousting Shaw, could be released at the campaign’s conclusion.
Internal decisions affect external ones and an area where the technical director could have their biggest input is that of current players’ contracts. In the summer, United announced five renewals – Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Andreas Pereira, Axel Tuanzebe and Dean Henderson – and last season Shaw, Young, Chris Smalling, Scott McTominay, Anthony Martial and Phil Jones extended their expiry date.
Amid the United board’s undermining of Jose Mourinho, they began discussions with Martial’s representatives last August. The player had wanted to leave and Mourinho was open to selling Martial on account of that desire. News of the negotiations emerged in the wake of the disturbing defeat at Brighton and United had further eroded the manager’s autonomy.
Marcos Rojo was gifted a new three-year contract in March of last year. He has made three club starts since and United have tried to sell him in the last two summer windows. The get-out card in terms of an explanation would be Mourinho sanctioned it, since it fits with the club’s timeframe that he ostensibly only asked Woodward to sign a centre-back in June of last year.
But it’s mixed messages. Last season, United telephoned Jones’s representatives, braced for United to trigger his one-year extension until 2020, who were surprised to be told of plans to thrash out a new four-and-a-half year package.
Should a technical director be parachuted in they would not have as many urgent contract renewals to address as one would have last year. David de Gea has verbally agreed a six-year contract and all that is left is for him to ink freshly-printed paperwork.
Young, Matteo Darmian and Lee Grant have entered the last year of their deals and he likelihood is none of them will be contracted United players next season. None have the option of additional year – which rests with the club – but Nemanja Matic does. Unless he proves his substantial worth, Matic, 31, could be released. United should also leave the extension in the contracts of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Demetri Mitchell and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson dormant. They have made five first-team starts between them in the last three years; none in the last two.
Eric Bailly is an anomaly in that his is a two-year option and United are not going to release a 26-year-old with re-sale value, even if he is injury-prone.
Victor Lindelof is not halfway through what is practically a five-year contract but his first-team status needs to be reflected with a new deal. His agent’s scaremongering was doubtless done with the objective of extracting more money from United, though Rojo, Smalling and Jones have banked new terms in the last 18 months.
Teenagers Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong are out of contract next year and long-term arrangements are essential.