MAN UNITED CONFIDENTIAL: Erik ten Hag to have reduced power over deals – if he isn’t sacked, two teenagers are on club’s transfer shortlist… plus how three brothers are the academy’s shining stars

 

Even if Erik ten Hag keeps his job as Manchester United manager this summer, the Dutchman is set to have less control over the club’s transfer policy under new co-owners Ineos.

United moved a step closer to installing Jason Wilcox as technical director after making a formal approach to Southampton on Monday, having already identified Dan Ashworth as their new director of football.

The club remain in compensation talks with Newcastle over Ashworth, who has been placed on gardening leave, although it’s understood there has been no progress. United are also in discussions with Saints over Wilcox after the Championship club refused an offer to pay off the remaining year of his contract.

Wilcox previously worked at Manchester City with Omar Berrada who is on gardening leave while he waits to start work as United’s new chief executive.

The new set-up is expected to be in place this summer, and even if Ten Hag survives to start a third season in charge, the manager will have less influence over recruitment in future.

Erik ten Hag will have less control over the club's transfer policy under Ineos' new structure
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Erik ten Hag will have less control over the club’s transfer policy under Ineos’ new structure

Antony is among the players signed by Man United following a recommendation from Ten Hag
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Antony is among the players signed by Man United following a recommendation from Ten Hag

Manchester United have made a formal approach to bring Southampton director of football Jason Wilcox (left) to the club
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Manchester United have made a formal approach to bring Southampton director of football Jason Wilcox (left) to the club

Ten Hag’s tenure has been notable for the number of new signings who have played in Holland. The majority of them – AntonyLisandro Martinez, Andre Onana and Sofyan Amrabat – worked under him at Ajax or Utrecht, while Tyrell Malacia and Wout Weghorst played at Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar respectively.

Although Ten Hag has insisted that he feels aligned with Ineos and will continue to have a significant say in the transfer structure, Confidential understands that the manager will be more focussed on coaching the team.

 

Ten Hag’s future remains up in the air after Saturday’s draw at Brentford and a limp performance at the Gtech Community Stadium dented his hopes of qualifying for the Champions League ahead of this week’s games against Chelsea and Liverpool.

Utd launch centre-back search

Although Ashworth and Wilcox aren’t in position yet, United are already drawing up plans for the summer transfer window.

At least one centre-back will be on the shopping list, and United are waiting for Everton to set a price for Jarrad Branthwaite who has been on their radar for some time.

They have also asked about figures for Boca Juniors defender Aaron Anselmino, 18, and are looking at Mikayil Faye, a 19-year-old Senegal defender who plays for Barcelona B.

United are also expected to be in the market for centre-forward, central midfielder and right-back this summer. The budget will once again be limited by FFP restrictions but they hope to raise up to £100m from player sales, as Confidential revealed last month.

Everton star Jarrad Branthwaite is among United's centre-back targets for the summer window
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Everton star Jarrad Branthwaite is among United’s centre-back targets for the summer window

Mikayil Faye, a 19-year-old Senegal defender who plays for Barcelona B, is also on the club's radar
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Mikayil Faye, a 19-year-old Senegal defender who plays for Barcelona B, is also on the club’s radar

Brandon in the dock

This should have been a season to remember for Brandon Williams in an Ipswich team that is flying under former United coach Kieran McKenna, and yet it’s turning out to be one to forget.

The 23-year-old defender has not been in a matchday squad since being on the bench against Stoke City on January 1, and has been back at United after a series of illnesses and minor injury problems.

But things are much more serious than that for Williams as he has a Crown Court hearing to prepare for later this month. Williams appeared in a court in Crewe last month where it was revealed he inhaled laughing gas before a 74mph car crash.

Brandon Williams (right) has a Crown Court hearing to prepare for later this month
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Brandon Williams (right) has a Crown Court hearing to prepare for later this month

He denies dangerous driving, and did not accept responsibility for the accident. He also denies that he was impaired and that he had no insurance.

The case has since been escalated to Chester Crown Court, with a hearing date of April 19 set. Williams has been granted unconditional bail.

Watkins book tells all

United’s long-standing former club solicitor and director Maurice Watkins’ autobiography will be posthumously published later this week.

The book, entitled Legally Red, promises a glimpse inside the boardroom at Old Trafford from Watkins’ 36 years with the club and is expected to recount Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous managerial U-turn in 2002, the courtroom defence following Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick at Crystal Palace and Rio Ferdinand’s drug test case. Watkins died at the age of 79 in August 2021.

Maurice Watkins, United's longstanding club solicitor and director, will have his autobiography posthumously published later this week
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Maurice Watkins, United’s longstanding club solicitor and director, will have his autobiography posthumously published later this week

Fans have say on tragedy chanting

United fans are being asked for their views on tragedy chanting in a new survey launched this week.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust has invited comments from its members ‘to get a better understanding of views and concerns’ after the FA Cup quarter-final victory over Liverpool and ahead of the league meeting between the two teams on Sunday.

Two United fans were arrested on suspicion of tragedy chanting following the game at Old Trafford. Throughout the game United supporters sang ‘murderers’, ‘always the victims, it’s never your fault’ and ‘The Sun was right – you’re murderers’.

United's FA Cup quarter-final tie with Liverpool was marred by tragedy chanting inside the ground
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United’s FA Cup quarter-final tie with Liverpool was marred by tragedy chanting inside the ground

The Manchester United fan who made sick 'fence' and 'push' gestures mocking the Hillsborough Disaster during Liverpool's FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford has been charged
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The Manchester United fan who made sick ‘fence’ and ‘push’ gestures mocking the Hillsborough Disaster during Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford has been charged

Another United supporter, 44-year-old Michael Bernard Avery, was charged after police investigated a video posted on social media which appeared to show him making sick ‘push’ and ‘crush’ gestures mocking the Hillsborough Disaster.

Police are still investigating video footage taken from the Liverpool end at the FA Cup tie, which featured a man making plane gestures, a reference to the Munich air disaster in 1958.

Last month, the United and Liverpool foundations teamed up to launch an education programme in partnership with the Premier League aimed at eradicating the issue for good.

Nice to see you

INEOS’ bid to link United and Nice were strengthened once more with the two sides’ Under-21s meeting in a friendly behind-closed-doors on Monday as part of United’s mini-trip to France.

Having beaten AS Monaco days prior, Ineos arranged for United to take on Nice where the French side ran out 3-2 winners.

But with a very young line-up that featured the likes of Gabriele Biancheri and Bendito Mantato, this was a very valuable experience during their two-game tour over the channel.

Don’t expect this to be the last time the two academy set-ups face off …

Anger over ticket deadline

United have been criticised by fans after they made every supporter who bought a ticket for the Brentford away game in the online returns collect their tickets from Old Trafford.

A small number of tickets for the game went on sale at Thursday at 11am, and fans who were successful were told to pick them up from the ticket office. Typically in this case they would be collected at the home team’s stadium.

United’s ticket office was closed over the Easter weekend, meaning fans had until 8pm on the Thursday to collect after the club kept it open longer than usual.

United fans at Brentford faced travel chaos and issues over collecting their tickets for the match
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United fans at Brentford faced travel chaos and issues over collecting their tickets for the match

One fan who bought a ticket for his son informed the ticket office it would be impossible for him to do so because of work commitments, and alleged he was then told his son would have to call in sick to work so he could get to the ground and collect. Sources said the club would never offer such advice.

Instead, he transferred to a friend to pick it up on his behalf, but United said this supporter would have to collect it at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium.

Sources insisted Brentford had told them they could not manage any more collections from United fans and blamed logistical problems caused by the Bank Holiday. The club accept it was not ideal but promised it was a one-off due to the holiday period.

Players in green giveaway

United’s draw at Brentford also saw the final appearance of their green and white striped away kit which was introduced this season.

The players gave their shirts to fans after the game as a gesture of appreciation for travelling to a 8pm kick-off on Saturday night in West London when there were no trains back to Manchester afterwards. The idea is said to have come from captain Bruno Fernandes.

United players gave their shirts to fans after the Brentford game as a gesture of appreciation
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United players gave their shirts to fans after the Brentford game as a gesture of appreciation

A group of young fans waiting outside the players’ entrance afterwards were also rewarded with a shirt each for helping staff load a skip full of dirty kit into the back of a van.

Talking about the travel problems before the game, manager Erik ten Hag said: ‘I feel very sorry for them, and I don’t think it’s right. We are grateful that they are there. We know they will come with a lot, it will be sold out in the area of Manchester United.

‘So we have to give them the win. We have to give them the right performance for them and I feel sorry for them that it is difficult to travel back to Manchester.’

Sadly, United’s performance in the 1-1- draw was hardly worth the effort.

Utd second in shirt poll

Speaking of club jerseys, United finished second behind Real Madrid in a survey of the most popular kits in world football last year. United are said to have earned £213million in shirt sales, some way behind Madrid who made £391m from sales of three million jerseys.

Barcelona were third in the poll by Casino Encyclopedia based on sales and internet searches, followed by Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, AC Milan, Chelsea, Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain.

Marcus Rashford was the most popular name on the back of United shirts, while Jude Bellingham topped the list at Madrid. However, Cristiano Ronaldo was the all-time No.1 at both his old clubs as well as Juventus.

Ten Hag’s sitting ducks

United matched an unwanted record in their draw against Brentford on Saturday night by becoming the only team along with Sheffield United to concede 30 or more shots in a single Premier League game this season.

Ten Hag’s side have faced 106 shots in their four games in all competitions in March – 27 against Manchester City, 23 against Everton, 25 against Liverpool and 31 against Brentford.

United became the only team along with Sheffield United to concede 30 or more shots in a single Premier League game this season against Brentford
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United became the only team along with Sheffield United to concede 30 or more shots in a single Premier League game this season against Brentford

It is part of a worrying trend that has seen United concede 498 shots in 29 Premier League games this season, the fourth-highest tally in the league behind only Sheffield United, Luton and West Ham.

To put the figure into context, United have conceded more shots than Arsenal and City combined – both teams have allowed 232 each.

United have allowed 16.9 shots per game in the Premier League this season, the third-worst tally after Sheffield United and Luton with 17.9 and 17.3 respectively. The average for top-5 teams currently stands at 10.3.

Unlucky 13 for Utd

Brentford’s last-gasp equaliser was not only entirely deserved but a case of deja vu for Erik ten Hag. Kristoffer Ajer’s goal was the 13th time this season United have conceded within 10 minutes of scoring themselves.

Three minutes elapsed between Mason Mount’s opener and Brentford’s equaliser, the shortest United have held onto to a lead this season since Martin Odegaard cancelled out Marcus Rashford’s opener in Arsenal’s 3-1 win at the Emirates in September.

Kristoffer Ajer's goal was the 13th time this season United have conceded within 10 minutes of scoring themselves
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Kristoffer Ajer’s goal was the 13th time this season United have conceded within 10 minutes of scoring themselves

Even more worryingly for Ten Hag, United have also developed a tendency to concede goals in quick succession and they have let in 13 goals this season within 10 minutes of conceding.

United conceded twice within four minutes at home against Nottingham Forest at the end of August and let in two in five minutes in their loss to Arsenal at the Emirates a week later.

They conceded two goals in four minutes against Bayern in their Champions League opener and twice in five minutes against both Bournemouth and Aston Villa at home this season.

Diallo drops in for iftar feast

Amad Diallo and Ten Hag attended an iftar dinner at Carrington last Thursday evening for the club’s Muslim staff members when they were treated to a feast of Middle Eastern food in the players’ canteen at the training ground. Iftar is the fast-breaking evening meal eaten every day at sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

Diallo scored a sensational winner in United’s 4-3 FA Cup quarter-final triumph over Liverpool at Old Trafford last month even though he was fasting for Ramadan.

Erik ten Hag joined an iftar night held for Manchester United players and staff members
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Erik ten Hag joined an iftar night held for Manchester United players and staff members

Now Robbo’s a captain of industry

United legend Bryan Robson is drawing on his vast experience in the game to launch a financial mentoring service aimed at individuals working in the sports, music and entertainment industry.

Robson has teamed up with his business partner Simon Andrews, an ex-United academy player turned financial specialist, and footballer, Jamie Proctor to form High Performance Individuals.

‘Over the years I have heard too many stories of individuals working within the sports and entertainment industry hitting financial difficulties, and it has almost always been due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to manage their own finances,’ said Robson.

‘At HPI, we are not here to tell you where to invest or how to spend your money, we aim to offer guidance and information to allow a person to understand their own finances, so they can be empowered to choose how they manage their money.’

Ibragimov brothers shine

Confidential has highlighted a lot of exciting young players in the academy in recent weeks, but there is no family with such an imprint on United’s youth right now like the Ibragimov brothers.

There is great expectation with all three boys showing incredible skill and technique for their age and it was a weekend to remember for the family as all three scored for United’s academy teams.

Muhammad, who is 12, scored a sensational free kick for United’s Under-12s in the Mic Football Cup, a prestigious tournament that hosts the best academy teams in the world.

Amir, who is 15 and is being tipped to be one of the next to break into the first team, scored for the Under-21s in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Monaco, while his younger brother Gazik, 14, scored the winning penalty in the GA Cup.

There isn’t a scout in the business that doesn’t have their eyes glued to the progress of the Ibragimov brothers.

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