The Manchester United signing that will show whether Ineos have learned from Ten Hag’s mistakes

Everton centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite is a testament to the club’s determination to end the long-standing habit of paying a tax on players at inflated prices.

July 10, 2024 6:00 am(Updated 6:02 am)

The French have a term for it: The more you can change, the more the meme is chosen – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The influx of Dutch players and staff linked to Erik ten Hag that the change of regime at Manchester United was supposed to stop thus appears to be continuing as before.

The addition of Ten Hag’s close friend René Hake, whom he worked with at FC Twente, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jelle ten Rouwelaar to the coaching staff – not to mention Joshua Zirkzee if United seal a deal for the Bologna striker before kick-off – should make for an interesting dynamic at Carrington ahead of England’s Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands in Dortmund.

The arrival of those mentioned, plus interest in defender Matthijs de Ligt and striker Brian Brobbey, both of whom worked with Ten Hag at Ajax, could be a coincidence, or it could be a consequence of the new pragmatism that kept the Dutchman in his place when United became interested in alternatives Thomas Tuchel and Roberto De Zerbi during the post-season review.

United minority owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe took the trouble to meet Tuchel in Monaco. Tuchel later backed out of the consideration.

Reports suggested Tuchel was unsure of Ratcliffe’s intentions. Perhaps he didn’t like being part of a beauty pageant. Or perhaps the money United was offering him, supposedly reduced under the club’s new leadership structure, didn’t fit Tuchel’s understanding of what a United salary should be.

The start of a new accounting year has seen transfer activity ramp up across the Premier League, particularly at Carrington, where United began the week with a transfer meeting to identify targets, including Jarrad Branthwaite. A second, improved offer of £45m plus a further £5m conditional on targets being met was rejected by Everton, who know a golden egg when they see one.

Branthwaite is clearly a test case for a club determined to end the long-standing habit of paying a “United tax” on players at inflated prices. Everton are demanding £70m.

Given United’s need at centre-back, they are obviously looking at their chances of landing him. Raphael Varane has left the club, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are on the market if they can find a club to buy them, while Jonny Evans stays for another year as a back-up alongside 20-year-old Willy Kambwala. Beyond that, United are keeping the excellent but injury-prone Lisandro Martinez.

Branthwaite is clearly United’s preferred target in the centre of defence but the associated interest in De Ligt, who has struggled at Bayern Munich and Juventus before that, demonstrates Ten Hag’s influence in a transfer process in which he was expected to play a minimal role.

In this hectic period, it is too early to determine the effectiveness of United’s new management structure, headed by chief executive Omar Berrada, sporting director Dan Ashworth, technical director Jason Wilcox and temporary head of recruitment Christopher Vivell. Yet it was precisely for this purpose that they were called in. Although Berrada and Ashworth took up their new roles last week, unless they have both been doing some gardening during their lengthy periods of leave, their to-do lists should converge suitably.

United’s priority is to get rid of unwanted players to fund their transfer activity. To this end, negotiations are progressing to sign Mason Greenwood for £27m and Jadon Sancho from Juventus. The Sancho deal is more complex, as it involves a loan agreement with an obligation to buy.

Forgotten Donny van de Beek is reportedly close to signing a deal with Girona for a staggering £500,000, four years after United paid Ajax £35m. In return, Van de Beek scored two goals in a total of 62 games.

The scar from Ajax runs deep. The presence of Antony, for whom Ten Hag campaigned and paid twice the market price, continues to undermine the coach’s competence and authority. Although Ten Hag remained in power, the contract extension he eventually received was not a ringing endorsement.

Yet he is still there, despite a transparent search for alternatives that might have embarrassed others into resigning. Not so Ten Hag, who read the mood brilliantly, helped by his FA Cup win over Manchester City and the immediate transfusion of power that followed. He kept his cool, retreated to Ibiza and waited for the wind to change direction.

At this stage it is difficult to unravel how far his influence extends in player recruitment. However, it seems his voice has been heard in the revamping of a coaching staff that retains a distinctly Dutch flavour. And if dodging the guillotine has given him renewed vigour and the confidence to deliver on the vision he sold to the old regime two years ago, there may yet be an “I told you so” end to his Old Trafford woes.