Decent transfer window despite restrcitions from FFP

Manchester United's greatest captain of 21st century, Roy Keane demanded they sign Harry Kane and Declan Rice. Erik ten Hag and the club were very clear that they wanted more than that starting from changing the goalkeeper. United completed their major first team reinforcements by 1st week of August: Mason Mount, Andre Onana, Rasmus Hojlund. This was a major departure from the way they conducted their transfers before. Mount and Onana were part of pre-season tour of America where they lost majority of their games, and Hojlund carrying a minor back injury was a doubt to be fit for opening game of the new English Premier League season.

To balance the books due to Financial Fair Play rules United had to raise funds by selling players before they could make any further incoming transfers. Every club in Europe knew this desperate position of United, once mighty club reduced to accepting low bids from 3rd tier clubs in part due to their poor recruitment over the years. Mark Ogden wrote a brilliant piece about this in ESPN "fact that he (Erik ten Hag) has written off 20 first-team players since taking charge just 15 months ago highlights how poor the club's squad had become". David de Gea, Donny van de Beek, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe haven't found a club yet.

This gap in valuations of players from club like Manchester United and their worth as seen by clubs was always going to delay the agreement over transfer fee. This situation was compounded by clubs farcical handling of Mason Greenwood internal investigation. Countdown presenter and long term United fan Rachel Riley threatened to boycott the club. Entire club lacked focus and promptly lost to Spurs 0-2 with utterly dispirited performance. Thus far the biggest blunder of chief executive Richard Arnold.

In keeping with habit of Erik ten Hag to retain the same starting XI that surrendered to Spurs and make improvements in effectiveness of gameplay with same XI, United came-back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 at home in their next game against Wolves. Then deadline day loomed. United were kept waiting for 4-days by Crystal Palace to conclude the deal for Dean Henderson for 15 million initial fee with 5 million in add-ons. This led to a frantic day of dealings to complete the signing of Altay Bayindir, Sergio Reguilon, Johnny Evans and Sofiyan Amrabat. Due to this delay United were forced to not commit to Marc Cucurella from Chelsea who could have been an upgrade to Luke Shaw and instead had to opt for Reguilon. The one deal all United fans were crying out for was that of Sofyan Amrabat and it was completed not as a direct buy but on loan due to insufficient funds. Salute to Morrocan's patience to wait till last minute of transfer window after contacts were made with his team in June itself. Seven incomings in one transfer window is decent return overall.

Barnay Roonay criticised Manchester United transfer activity on the 10th anniversary of 1st transfer window of post Ferguson era when Fellaini was brought on deadline day as most players deserted United and without David Gill, United had no plan to tackle that. This window isn't the same and instead he could have highlighted the plight of Manchester United famed for promoting their academy players to be forced to sell them in record numbers to raise funds: Charlie Savage, Anthony Elanga, Zidane Iqbal, Ethan Laird, Di'Shon Bernard, Matej Kovar, Noam Emeran, Teden Mengi, Logan Pye. Listed are only the 9 of 15 academy players moved on. Sir Alex Ferguson would often introduce young players at full back positions late in 2nd half after contracting their midfield, United of 2023 chose to loan out Alvaro Fernandez and get Sergio Reguilon on loan after injury to two left-backs Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia. 23.5 million as per transfermarkt raised by selling Elanga, Kovar, Iqbal of total 55.24 million i.e., 42.54%. Inability to sell Harry Maguire was the only negative of transfer window as United needed a new partner to Lisandro Martinez since Varane is often injured and Lindelof like Henning Berg is effective but not convincing.

All focus will be on Rasmus Hojlund when he makes the much-awaited debut. Return of Cristiano Ronaldo disrupted the away record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it has got worse since then. Industry of Hojlund will be key to press from high up and be first line of defense. Ronaldo signing was necessitated to protect his legacy of his first stint with United and not let him join City. United have retained 19-year old striker Joe Hugill as backup option! United needed the numbers (7) to reinforce the squad after writing off close to 20 players. Second season is more difficult than first but Erik ten Hag has got his players unlike Jose Mourinho so he should be able to slowly improvise team at his disposal to eke out good results eventually.

Steady progress under Erik ten Hag amidst uncertainity over club ownership

Erik ten Hag clearly over achieved in his first season as manager of Manchester United by finishing third, winning a trophy, reaching finals of the FA Cup and an extended run in Europa League filled the club’s coffers. United were also helped by the self-implosion of rivals Liverpool and Chelsea last season, who in turn have spent big in the summer. While City were imperious, Arsenal have spent big on Rice, Timber, Havertz, Raya. Competition just got even difficult this season. New rule proposed by FA to consider exact time of ball being in play to calculate stoppage time will mean more lengthier ending to both halves thus sapping up energy of players further, ultimately resulting them in playing 3-5 more matches per season.

Erik ten Hag got his man in Andre Onana to replace United's player of last decade David de Gea. Onana will be able to start attacks, come forward lot more to be like sweeper keeper and this risk taking will inevitably result in few errors leading to cede advantage. ten Hag has changed a very reliable goalkeeper after just one season like Guardiola did at City with Joe Hart. Like Guardiola, for ten Hag also this would be the hardest decision he has had to take. Beware Claudio Bravo the replacement of Joe Hart cost City the title! Onana will need time to settle in to pacey Premier League but he has already worked Erik ten Hag at Ajax will mean he knows what the gaffer wants. Already in pre-season he conceded a goal when opposition team chipped the ball over him to score. Schmeichel, van der Saar and de Gea have been three outstanding keepers for the club in last 30 years and will take enormous effort to try to match their accomplishments.

United stuck to their guns in negotiations with Chelsea for Mason Mount and finally got their man on 4th bid. Mount will eventually replace Eriksen who seemed off-pace after his return from injury last season. Also, there is more goals in Mount which will reduce the burden on strikers. His movement alongside right inside channel will mean new avenue of attack, leading to creation of more chances. This is an excellent acquisition by United. To top it Erik ten Hag decided to hand him the iconic #7 jersey, hoping this does not weigh him down. United do need to have a backup for Casemiro as they have looked most vulnerable in his absence. Sofiyan Amrabat is being mentioned as a possible addition, will be a good boost.

United did not pursue Harry Kane due to difficulties in negotiations with Spurs and this transfer could have protracted all summer thus disrupting the focus. Instead signed a potential in Rasmus Hojlund who just turned 20 this February for a significant investment. This is a welcome change from signing older forwards from Falcao to Weghorst. Last such signing was Anthony Martial and Hojlund will not end up like him due the coach that Erik ten Hag is. Hojlund has more physical presence, runs in the channels, holds the ball better than Martial. These attributes bode well for him, thus the expectation for him in initial years at United has to be lower.

Bruno Fernandes has officially become the new club captain and Marcus Rashford signed a new deal to extend his association with club he joined as a kid. United have done well to agree sale of Telles(€4m), Elanga(€15m), Kovar(€9m), Fred(€15m), Iqbal(€1m), undisclosed fee from Savage, Bishop, earning from transfer of Chong(€1m) to Luton Town. Approximately €45m with futures of few players yet to be decided like Maguire, van de Beek, Henderson, McTominay, Martial etc is indeed good business. Would have liked Kovar to be number two keeper with Heaton but United have got first right on his next move and proceeds from sale to any other club. 'McFred' era is finally over. Credit to Fred to have always put in 100% effort.

Following the strategic review of the club by Glazers last November to initiate a potential sale, and conclusion of few rounds of bidding no definitive response has come forth from Glazers. MUST and 1958 group both have planned protests for the season opener against Wolves. MUST statement reads "The Club feels like it is being held hostage by the Glazer family". Despite this uncertainty of takeover, backlash over Greenwood future, FFP rules that limit spending, United have done two other positive things: Agreeing a long term £900million deal to extend the partnership with Adidas two years in advance which might help to infuse some more funds for this summer’s transfer if contract duration can be prolonged, and created a players lounge area to give instructions to players before matches after similar requests from van Gaal and Mourinho were declined earlier. Club under Richard Arnold, John Murtough and Erik ten Hag have been working within the system to gain maximum for the club which fans can relate to with appreciation. Having got a good foundation last season here is hoping United to close the gap with City and Arsenal even further.

David de Gea next in line for ruthless Erik ten Hag after seeing off Ronaldo and Maguire

When Sir Alex Ferguson wanted fans favourite Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath out of Manchester United squad, none at the club were pleased. Injury had almost curtailed Whiteside's career by then while McGrath was reinvigorated after leaving United for Villa culminating in fantastic World Cup performances with Ireland in Italy and USA. Erik ten Hag has already gotten rid of Cristiano Ronaldo and rarely uses club captain Harry Maguire, next in line is legendary keeper with most number of games, clean sheets for Manchester United and last player to have won Premier League in 2013, David de Gea.

David de Gea has won Sir Matt Busby player of the year award 4 times and helped United to finish in top six with incredible saves despite being in a poor side. He has never been in headlines for wrong reasons and worked with all coaches from Ferguson to ten Hag. His performances in most of last 12 years can be compared with 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson's 12 year tenure as they both carried a floundering club single handedly. Robson won the Premier League twice, Cup Winners Cup, 3 FA Cup's and League Cup while de Gea has won the Premier League once, Europa League, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cup's.

From last season unfortunately a montage can also be made of blunders of David de Gea. Most recently in the FA Cup final against City for both goals from Gundogan, first and third goal against Sevilla in Europa League quater-finals 2nd leg, messed up a speculative shot from Benrahma at West Ham to lose 0-1, got beaten at near post for 1st goal scored by Barcelona at Camp Nou, let the ball slip between his legs for Everton's only goal as United won 3-1 in FA Cup 3rd round, 1st goal in the 0-4 loss at Brentford where he let the ball pass through his hands while diving. Roy Keane had this to say after the FA Cup final loss "That’s the thing with top goalkeepers, they get you over the line in certain games and could have been the difference today. You expect your keeper to save that and he didn't and that’s why we’re seeing these celebrations. For Man United, they need a world class goalkeeper and he isn't". 

These crucial mistakes apart from inherent deficiency in his game of not commanding his penalty area aerially, poor clearance from pressure situations during back pass, zero understanding between him and Maguire, not able to play out from the back a pre-requisite for the modern game make his future as United No 1 keeper vulnerable. The Athletic published a damning report of how Manchester United backed out of contract negotiations by not signing the deal after agreeing lower terms with David de Gea. If true it's a very bad way to treat a club legend who has bailed the club in its worst times. Club have not responded to this report as yet but released a short statement "De Gea's contract is due to run out but discussions remain open with the long-serving keeper".

Officially David de Gea is a free agent as of 1st July, 2023 and Dean Henderson their No 1 keeper who seems bent on joining Nottingham Forest who in return are yet to make an offer for him. With the club up for sale and ownsership status not yet decided the funds available for summer transfer are limited. With a centre-forward and midfielder already a priority adding a keeper to the list squeezes the funds even further. Options for United include buying a new No 1 keeper like Andre Onana from Inter who is valued at 50 million, make Dean Henderson the new No 1 keeper and buy a new backup keeper, give David de Gea a new contract and buy a new backup keeper to maintain pressure to perform. 

Backup keeper option seems to be over after United did not pursue its interest in Bart Verbruggen who has since joined Brighton. It's a dead heat between signing Onana and retaining out-of-contract David de Gea. As per Fabrizio Romano the respected transfer specialist United wish to speak with de Gea after his marriage and ascertain his future plans if he has any offers on hand and then take a call. Press reports claim of offer from Saudi club Al-Nassr FC for whom Cristano Ronaldo also plays. To bolster funds for transfers United have put Fred and Elanga on the list. Futures of Harry Maguire, Anthony Martial, Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Donny van de Beek that's 7 confirmed players for exit and an area where club is not good at namely getting a good value for its players and getting the deal done quickly. Despite the imminent arrival of Mason Mount, most problematic position has been that of No 6 when Casemiro is injured and United must get a backup without fail.

Two years back had done this tribute to David de Gea, a bona fide Manchester United club legend and one of its greatest ever keepers. Club under Richard Arnold and John Murtough has backed Erik ten Hag over an icon like Ronaldo which is a welcome departure from Ed Woodward's social media preference to retain stars as in case of Pogba over Mourinho. Erik ten Hag needs to be backed to get his players in order to realise the style of play desired on the pitch for Manchester United to progress. In his first year he has clearly achieved his targets especially by ending the trophy drought and finishing in top three. Here is hoping he succeeds like how Ferguson did.

FA Cup final finally gets a Manchester derby

There has been a London derby and a Liverpool derby but never a Manchester derby in the final of the most prestigious cup competition in the world, the FA Cup. That changes on Saturday, 3rd June when United face City at Wembley. City have beaten tough opponents like Chelsea and Arsenal to reach the finals whereas United have played all matches at home and beat Brighton and Hove Albion on penalties in semi-finals. United won the League Cup in February and finished 3rd in the League whereas City won the Premier League for 3rd straight year, their 5th in last 6 years and are due to play Inter Milan in UEFA Champions' League finals. United will play with extra motivation to stop City matching their unique feat of winning the Treble in 1999. United had played City in FA Cup semi-finals twice in 1926 and 2011, losing on both occasions. First ever Manchester derby was played in 1st round qualifier of FA Cup on 3rd October, 1891 when Newton Heath beat Ardwick 5-1 at home on North Road. On 7th February 1931 Sir Matt Busby represented City in his only derby appearance to beat United 3-1!

Manchester United has never won the domestic cup double. Lost in the League Cup finals while winning the FA Cup in 1983 and 1994. Only 4 clubs have won the domestic cup double 5 times Arsenal, Liverpool(2), Chelsea, Man City. United chase a record of their own. If United lose it will be their 9th loss in 21 finals, the most by any club in competition's history. While United remain the only club to have stopped Liverpool and Everton winning their treble in 1977 and 1985. Can United do it again? They are clearly the underdogs and missing their key defender Lisandro Martinez through injury. Erik ten Hag has beaten City 2-1 at Old Trafford by having Fred man-mark Kevin de Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes produced a moment of magic to beat the offside trap. 

Manchester United will also miss Anthony Martial who suffered a late injury and casts a huge about his future. Anthony dos Santos is a doubt after picking up an injury in 4-1 win against Chelsea. Pep Guardiola had this to say about the progress United have made under Erik ten Hag "Manchester United are a different team to what we faced at the start of the season. They have improved and so has their quality." United starting XI is likely to be: de Gea(GK), Wan Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Fernandes, Eriksen, Sancho, Rashford. City will continue with keeper Ortega who has played in all five FA Cup matches and not conceded a single goal! Guardiola had rested de Bruyne and Grealish in the last match of the season against Brentford which they lost 0-1.

Erling Haaland has already scored a hat-trick against United in his first derby match when City won 6-3. While Marcus Rashford scored 30 goals in all competitions - a first for a United player since Robin van Persie in 2013 but for Erling Haaland to score 52 goals this season is just staggering accomplishment by any standards and worth appreciating. This also highlights the major area that United need to improve in this summer - get a proper No 9. Bruno Fernandes has produced more chances than Kevin de Bruyne this season but with very low conversion rate due to absence of an elite striker. United covet the likes of Victor Osimhen, Harry Kane, Rasmus Hojlund, Goncalo Ramos, Randal-Kolo Muani, Benjamin Sesko. Anthony Martial oft injured scored 9 goals and Wout Weghorst 2 in all competions paints a clear picture of deficiency in forward unit. United need two strikers not just one as Wout Weghorst has struggled to score despite putting in great effort to press. Club also need to clear the legal situation around Mason Greenwood.

1999 Man Utd vs 2023 Man City
It is very difficult to compare teams from two different era's. Latest one's will seem more evolved due to progress in overall development of the game of football globally. Nonetheless the figures of Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin, Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs will tower above anyone else from the Premier League. Tactical changes of Pep Guardiola will make John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Erling Haaland stand out. While Guardiola has managed great clubs across Europe and won silverware with big budgets and help from sporting directors, Sir Alex Ferguson awakened a giant in United to break monopoly not just in England but also in Scotland with Aberdeen and at the same rekindled the youth setup of Sir Matt Busby to win trophies with kids. Thus Ferguson is clearly way ahead of Spaniard in managerial stakes. By the way both United and City are yet to firm up as clubs to organise an annual Magnall Cup as initially mooted in January, 2020 and Magnall remains the only person to manage both sides of Manchester yet guiding them to success with trophies!

All in all it promises to be a great encounter irrespective of the result. History will definitely be made on the hallow turf of Wembley by sides from Manchester taking the centre-stage in 142nd edition of FA Cup. Manchester United are the only English club to have won the ultimate European Treble while Manchester City are the only English club to have won the domestic treble. After winning their first double in '94 United released a song "Come on you, Reds" with Status Quo and it went on to reach #1 in the official charts. Enjoy! If United can avoid being hit for a six and score momentous goal likes of Wayne Rooney overhead kick, Bruno Fernandes beating offside trap, Micheal Owen winning in injury time, Paul Scholes fantastic header, Roy Keane's diving header, Chris Smalling completing a 2-3 comeback win... in for a treat.

Erik ten Hag's future uncertain despite the heroics against Liverpool in FA Cup

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