Former scout reveals how Man Utd made him ‘very angry’ after failing to sign £133m pair

Joe Williams
Former Man Utd executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward
Ed Woodward ignored advice to sign Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong.

Former Manchester United scout Marcel Bout has revealed that the Red Devils missed out on signing Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong after ignoring his advice.

The Red Devils have struggled with their recruitment ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013 with former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward heavily criticised before leaving the club in 2022.

Woodward was credited for bringing lucrative sponsorship contracts to the club in his role as head of commercial and media operations, which he left in 2012 to join the Man Utd board of directors as executive vice-chairman.

He was criticised heavily by pundits and supporters for his mismanagement of the club’s recruitment with Woodward partly responsible for breaking the world transfer record to bring Paul Pogba back to Man Utd from Juventus in August 2016.

Woodward’s replacement, Richard Arnold, has also come under fire for a number of poor signings and Arnold is now stepping down as chief executive after less than two years in the job.

Man Utd are hoping to finally get a grip of their recruitment when Sir Jim Ratcliffe completes a deal for 25 per cent of the club – but former Red Devils scout Bout has revealed they missed out on De Ligt and De Jong because of Woodward.

READ MORE: Chelsea and Man United’s missing strikers: Every Premier League club’s worst transfer mistake of 2023

Bout told Algemeen Dagblad: “I said to Ed Woodward; ‘Edwin van der Sar played here. Now, create a bridge to Ajax through him’. 17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt played at Ajax in training. Later, Frenkie de Jong came to Ajax.

“‘Make sure that, at United, you make a deal early on for these kinds of talents, and then you can always let them mature for a while in the Netherlands,’ I said.”

De Ligt and De Jong both starred as Ajax reached the Champions League semi-finals under Erik ten Hag a few years later. De Ligt would eventually join Juventus for £68m, while De Jong went on to move to Barcelona for £65m.

Bout added: “(My advice went ignored) because there are so many forces at play within United.

“(The Man United bosses) don’t make decisions, or make them too late. Isn’t that a shame? My dismissal has made me very angry.”

Louis van Gaal, who took Bout to Old Trafford, revealed a list of players he tried to sign while manager of Man Utd but the club didn’t sign any of his top targets.

Speaking to FourFourTwo in 2020, Van Gaal said: “I wanted Robert Lewandowski, but when this proved difficult I tried to get Gonzalo Higuain instead. Before I had arrived, I also spoke with the board about Neymar. If you are at United, you have to think big – he was also interesting for the club in terms of selling shirts, and I wanted to have quick wingers.

“For that reason, I also tried to get Sadio Mané and Riyad Mahrez. Thomas Muller was on my wish list, too, and in central midfield, I wanted N’Golo Kanté. I even tried to sign James Milner, who was already quite old but very multifunctional and possessed leadership skills.

“For the defence, I wanted Sergio Ramos and Mats Hummels, because ours wasn’t the strongest in building from the back. Those were my top targets, but we couldn’t get any of them. I don’t know why, because as the manager I wasn’t involved in any negotiations.

“After I left, players like Mahrez and Kanté ended up at Manchester City and Chelsea, while United couldn’t get them. I found that very odd.”