The improvement of Manchester United by Aston Villa today was personified in a disconnected and overwhelmed midfield. A key piece in this exhibition was Donny van de Beek.
With Bruno Fernandes suspended, Van de Beek was given the opportunity to keep his place in the starting lineup for back-to-back games. Fernandes’ absence was felt as his replacement was on the periphery of the entire match, as was the case against Real Sociedad three days ago.
The surprising thing is that, after three seasons in the red shirt, Van de Beek has rarely not been an anonymous figure in the United team.
People can make gestures of flashes, perhaps against Everton in the FA Cup, or Crystal Palace shortly after he signed, but these flashes don’t justify calling the Dutch midfielder anything other than dead.
People can point to the fact that he hasn’t been “given a series of games.” 56 appearances is more than enough opportunity to prove that you’re a starter, or at the very least, to show some kind of worth.
Van de Beek was simply unable to do either, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Ralf Rangnick and Erik ten Hag deemed his contribution too inadequate for him to become a regular starter or even a valuable member of the team.
Excessive confidence in Bruno Fernandes has been a symbol of Van de Beek’s lack of offer both in training and in games. He hasn’t even been entrusted with the substitute role because Fernandes plays every game.
With all three managers’ faith in Fernandes’ ability, contribution and effectiveness, Van de Beek has rarely featured in United’s line-up. But he’s appeared 56 times, he can’t get away from it. 56 opportunities; Alejandro Garnacho needed one to show his quality at United.
Erik ten Hag is already having an impact on the inner workings of United. Aside from his integral role in last summer’s scouting strategy with John Murtough and Richard Arnold pushing their sidelines to Ten Hag’s shortlist, the new manager is said to have demanded a more ruthless approach to contract extensions. . With such a desire to act ruthlessly in his quest to build a team that contends for the Premier League title, Van de Beek may be the first real chance to set a new marker.
However, United are not overwhelmed by options in midfield (which ironically materializes in Van de Beek’s presence in the squad) and such immediate haste can backfire.
Fred and Scott McTominay can now (finally) be seen as role players: when the energy is low, bring in Fred, if the opponent physically dominates the game, bring in McTominay. Maybe having a more technical role player on the sidelines is also not such a bad thing.
The problem with Van de Beek: It’s a real struggle to identify this role. To identify what you can offer. To identify your talents at Old Trafford. And he has had 56 opportunities to introduce them.
Can Erik ten Hag be the man to reveal the answers to these secrets? Van de Beek’s Ajax ally should be the best candidate to do so. It was under the tutelage of Ten Hag that the midfielder performed so brilliantly that he inspired United to put up an initial €40m. It should allow itself a season to reconfigure and realign itself with the Ten Hag philosophies.
But this is if United, in fact, do not want to act ruthlessly.
Even when a player was performing much better than Van de Beek for United, Sir Alex Ferguson would sanction his sale simply if he didn’t quite fit in (Juan Sebastián Verón comes to mind). On Manchester’s blue side, Pep Guardiola and Txiki Berigistain have the ability to act with a truly fierce vision of the transfer market.
Such a fierce and ruthless nature in all aspects of management is intrinsic to trophy hunting. Also, it’s not like Ten Hag hasn’t acted this way.
David Neres performed extremely profitably under Ten Hag’s leadership at Ajax. But, the winger began to show a lack of dedication to his craft and his performances faltered. Combined with injury spells, Ten Hag signed Mohamed Dahamy and Steven Berghuis as a result of Neres’ slow fall from grace.
He is not a man to show compassion when a mediocre member of the squad stands in his way to glory.
And while United are not blessed with options in midfield, there are more pressing holes in the squad. There is an urgent requirement for a backup upstairs. Van de Beek could be an option to immediately raise funds for a center forward this winter.
John Murtough has made it known that United are not planning to spend in January. However, considering the clamor for a new striker, highlighted by Harry Maguire’s cameo against Society as an impromptu target man, the director of football may advise Richard Arnold and the Glazers to juggle finances. The sale of Van de Beek, even for half the purchase price, would present a clear opening for Glazernomic for the Club to sign a cheap striker; and there are some good options for less than 20 million euros.
It is time for Ten Hag and the hierarchy to seriously consider selling Van de Beek at any price, especially as he will not be included in the World Cup showcase.
Cruelty must prevail if United are to build a team capable of winning trophies on all fronts.