Manchester United are telling clubs that they’re reluctant sellers in the January transfer market, effectively putting a block on the escape route of a clutch of players who want more first team football in the second half of the season.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick earned some temporary respite from the questions swirling around Old Trafford by overseeing a 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday – but it was a performance that did not do much to banish questions about the fragility of his Red Devils and the progress of his own “revolution”.
They rode their luck and failed to dictate the contest against Steven Gerrard’s lively Villa in a further sign that there is work to do for Rangnick on the training ground. Confidence and morale has been questioned over a tumultuous opening couple of months for Rangnick but it’s understood he believes there are signs of progress both in the team’s displays and on the training ground.
Rebuilding those foundations is now viewed as a key part of Rangnick’s temporary rescue mission as he looks to reassert his own playing philosophy on the team and create a culture which his successor can walk into and improve.
For all that there are reported schisms in the Old Trafford dressing room, Rangnick believes there have been positive steps in the last few days.
Indeed a source close to the Manchester United boss told i that some senior players had re-stated to the German that they were behind him in the dark days that followed the New Year defeat to Wolves. Marcus Rashford, for one, posted a message on his social media accounts reaffirming his backing for Rangnick, although his performance against Aston Villa once again prompted questions about his own decline.
What’s clearly emerging behind-the-scenes is that interim boss Rangnick will not be overseeing major surgery to the team in January – even if the club remain “open” to the idea of adding to the squad if the right player becomes available for an appropriate valuation.
RB Leipzig’s Amadou Haidara is a player under consideration, although with his country Mali in AFCON action for at least the next fortnight nothing is imminent. Rangnick’s view is that he will only bring in players capable of “upgrading” the squad and he shares the club’s perception of January as a difficult window to manoeuvre in.
That could even extend to outgoings, with the Red Devils keen to retain numbers amid ongoing injury and Covid concerns.
Reports last week claimed up to 11 players want to leave but a recruitment source said that Manchester United are one of a number of clubs reluctant to deal in what is likely to prove a quiet window for teams at the top of the Premier League.
The Red Devils have told clubs that they’re not willing to let anyone go at this stage of the window because they need to carry sufficient strength-in-depth to compete in Europe and chase down a top four spot.
Dean Henderson has had a transfer request turned down by Rangnick while Anthony Martial’s move to Sevilla, which was being pursued aggressively by the La Liga side last month, has petered out due the conditions the Red Devils have placed on the deal. He could yet stay at Old Trafford.
One source at a potential buying club told i an enquiry about a fringe player had been batted back – although the situation may be revisited later in the window.
Manchester United will want to extract maximum value for the likes of Jesse Lingard, who is wanted by Tottenham, and club executives believe January is a poor time to deal. Any loan moves being discussed would come with a heavy burden on the buying club – which is also putting off potential suitors from Europe.
Similarly Donny van der Beek, who has become a cause celebre at Old Trafford for his lack of minutes, is unlikely to exit Manchester United despite interest from Newcastle. Rangnick has told the Dutch international he wants him to remain at Old Trafford, assuring him he remains in his plans.
Against that backdrop Rangnick will have to extract improvements from within to make the second half of the season a success. It says a lot that he’s willing to meet that challenge.