Manchester Utd

How Man Utd switched transfer focus to hunt for future superstars

Somewhat under the radar, the Old Trafford side have recruited some of the top youth talents around Europe

5:30pm on Friday 18th September 2020
By
Graham Ruthven

There is barely an elite level player who hasn’t been linked with a move to Manchester United at one point or another.

Indeed, the Old Trafford club have become a magnet for every lazy transfer rumour and piece of conjecture in recent years largely because they were willing for that to be the case. Ed Woodward liked that almost every player going was seen as a potential United target.

A NEW TRANSFER STRATEGY

More recently, Manchester United have refined their transfer strategy. Now, they might actually have one with last summer’s signings of Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka reflective of their search for the generally young, hungry and homegrown. Not since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson have United had such a focus.

But while these sort of signings might be the starkest sign of their new focus, their recent youth recruitment drive could prove to be even more significant. It’s not just on the surface where United have changed their ways with an increasing number of teenage prospects being lured to the club.

28 yrs - D (C) - Man Utd
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85%

Marc Jurado, for one, is believed to be on his way to Old Trafford, with the 16-year-old right-back reportedly close to joining United from Barcelona. This news came just one week after they agreed a deal with Sunderland for the signing of another 16-year-old, Joe Hugill. The young striker, who was also on the radar of Arsenal and Tottenham, only requires Premier League ratification for the transfer to happen.

United are so committed to unearthing the sport’s superstars of the future that they paid €10 million for Monaco youth product Hannibal Mejbri, with the midfield maestro close to cracking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s senior squad having impressed for the club’s Under-23s. On his current trajectory, it won’t be long before Mejbri makes his breakthrough.

This is before United’s very public pursuit of Jude Bellingham is even mentioned. The signing of the Birmingham City teenager is seen as a priority for the summer, with the Old Trafford outfit already tabling a £30 million offer for the 16-year-old according to widespread reports. Borussia Dortmund are also thought to be interested.

Bellingham has scored four times in 32 Championship appearances this season, also notching two assists for good measure. The 16-year-old has averaged 1.1 dribbles and 1.2 shots per game this season and is capable of playing in almost every position in the midfield and across the attacking line. His signing would be a real investment in the future and a show of faith in what Solskjaer envisages for his Manchester United team.

16 yrs - M (LC) - Birmingham
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As much as United have spent at the top level of the transfer market, splurging £750 million over the last five years, they have also pledged significant resources to recruiting the best talent at youth level. This could set the club up for a much brighter decade than the one they have just endured.

It’s a sign that while Woodward remains hesitant to appoint the Director of Football the club clearly could use, a structural and ideological overhaul has taken place at. The Old Trafford outfit has recently beefed up its scouting network with a raft of new executive appointments made over the last 18 months or so. There is a lot going on beneath the surface and their youth recruitment drive proves this.

Of course, the Red Devils also need results in the short term, something the likes of Jurado, Hugill, Mejbri and Bellingham likely won’t be able to help with for some time. This is the balance Solskjaer must strike. Immediate success must be achieved in order for the Norwegian to point the club in the right direction for the next generation.

He must also harness the young talent already on United’s books. Mason Greenwood has enjoyed a successful season, making 22 Premier League appearances, with Brandon Williams also holding down a place at left back for a stretch of the 2019/20 campaign. But while these two have broken through, Tahith Chong has struggled for game time despite signing a new contract to keep him at Old Trafford until 2022.

18 yrs - F (C), AM (R) - Man Utd
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Angel Gomes has similarly struggled to catch Solskjaer’s eye, making just two Premier League appearances off the bench this season. Now, it appears the highly rated teenage playmaker could leave at the end of his contract this summer, with Chelsea reportedly interested in offering the former England Under-17 captain an escape route.

Nonetheless, Manchester United’s commitment to youth and building something for the future appears genuine, and whether it’s Jurado, Hugill and Mejbri or Chong and Gomes, or a combination of the two groups, that succeed at Old Trafford the environment is right for the next generation to grow. United might not be in perfect shape right now, but they are making moves to ensure things get better.

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