Before appointing the Dutchman last summer, United identified West Ham captain Declan Rice as the priority to address long-standing concerns in their engine room. However, the manager switched focus to a proposed reunion with Frenkie de Jong – his former Ajax protg.
As the rebuild unfolded, De Jong stayed put at Barcelona and the colossal Casemiro was lured to Old Trafford instead. What a decision that turned out to be from Ten Hag and key figures behind the scenes.
Striving to capitalise on a hugely impressive first campaign, the United manager is hoping to snap-up another top midfielder, while Victor Osimhen and Harry Kane are being monitored in the search for a long-term striker. Here are seven possible options Ten Hag could pursue in the engine room;
Elite clubs across Europe are forming a (disorderly) queue for his signature as speculation over his immediate future with Borussia Dortmund mounts. United were in the race for Bellingham when he opted for Dortmund coming up three years ago and there is absolutely no doubt they would want him now. However, the decision will be out of their hands as generational talent Bellingham mulls over his next adventure.
Ten Hag and United pursued De Jong for three months last summer and the former Ajax manager knows how much the Barcelona playmaker would offer should he eventually sign. He resisted their advances once already, but the Catalan giants have not exactly treated their Netherlands international fairly over the past few months. By contrast, he would be welcomed to Old Trafford with open arms.
Gravenberch was linked with United last summer, owing to his Ajax connections, but he opted to follow interest from Bayern Munich instead. Although he cost the German heavyweights nothing, things have not worked out to plan for the Netherlands international just yet. Gravenberch has started only one Bundesliga game this season, but will Bayern look to cash-in on the player after 12 months?
Another midfielder who has long been linked with the club. Neves offers control in central areas and can boast Premier League experience on his CV. However, the Portuguese is not quite as dynamic as others on this list and might, as a result, feature a little further down when it comes to numbering preferred choices.
Rice has been on the radar at Old Trafford before, while the West Ham captain has also made no secret about his ambition to play in the Champions League moving forward. United are primed and ready to be able to give him that next season, but there is the small matter of a 100million-plus fee and other interest. Manchester City and Chelsea are potential suitors as they monitor Bellingham, as well. So many moving parts.
It was a smart move to bring the Austria international in on loan from Bayern on January deadline day. His mid-season arrival has provided top quality cover with Christian Eriksen (ankle) on the treatment table. United have no option or obligation to buy him permanently, but that scenario remains a possibility if he impresses over the next few matches. A would-be fee around 16million has been mooted.
Another bargain alternative. Tielemans is almost certain to become a free agent in the summer as his contract with Leicester draws to an end with no agreement over an extension in sight. In a similar bracket to Neves, the Belgium playmaker offers control and United have utilised the free agent market recently with Eriksen.