Five Manchester United summer moves thwarted by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s ‘five strict rules’

Will Ford
Ratcliffe Man Utd
Sir Jim Ratcliffe's has set 'five strict rules' at Manchester United.

Erik ten Hag remains the Manchester United manager, but Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his band have written some rules that may well convince the Dutchman into parting by mutual consent, and dissuade any decent alternatives from taking his place.

There are ‘five strict rules’, all of them designed to ensure that the new (or current) Manchester United boss isn’t really the boss at all; barely a head coach actually.

We’ve come up with five summer changes – which we believe would be beneficial for the Red Devils – that are now not possible under the new guidelines.


No Next Robin Van Persie
It says something for Ratcliffe’s first rule of not signing players over the age of 25 that we had to go back over a decade to Sir Alex Ferguson’s last summer transfer window to find an unimpeachable example of when that rule would have scuppered Manchester United.

Bruno Fernandes would have sneaked through the net as a 25-year-old, and while Juan Mata, Raphael Varane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani were not disastrous additions, United probably wouldn’t have achieved a whole lot less without them, and each of their wages could have covered two, maybe three, younger alternatives.

Obviously the circumstances when Van Persie arrived were different. In three, four, five or ten years’ time when United are next challenging for the title, they may decide to bend their rule to find a final piece of the puzzle like the Dutchman. But actually, after a season in which Rasmus Hojlund has struggled to cope with the responsibility of being the main and only man up front, United could probably do with an experienced striker to ease the burden.

The benefits of someone like Joselu, whom they’ve been linked with, is that he won’t cost much, he won’t expect to play all that often, but can take the pressure off Hojlund while giving him advice.

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No Harry Kane
We’re on the same rule here, bear with us. We just thought it worth pointing out to Sir Jim just how worthwhile signing players over the age of 25 can be. Sure, the Kane trophy curse has now infected Bayern Munich, but the 30-year-old did score 44 goals in his debut season with the German giants and has managed 184 goals in the last five seasons.

Robert Lewandowski scored 26 as a 35-year-old this term for Barcelona, was still playing for Borussia Dortmund when he was 25, and has scored 441 goals in his ensuing infirm years. We haven’t got the time or inclination to work out how many Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo have scored since their 25th birthdays, but you get the idea.

For your delectation, here are some players Manchester United now cannot sign: Lautaro Martinez, Bruno Guimaraes, Nicolo Barella, Douglas Luiz, Leroy Sane, Ollie Watkins, Bremer, Ousmane Dembele, Joao Palhinha, Raphinha, Benjamin Pavard, Jarrod Bowen, Kingley Coman, Dani Olmo, Ivan Toney, Joshua Kimmich.

And critically, for the player, the club and the sanity of gossip columnists, Manchester United will not be signing Frenkie De Jong.


No Rodrygo or Vinicius Junior
We can’t help but feel that the first two rules – the second being ‘No Galacticos’ – and possibly the fourth and fifth, which we’ll address but relate to the manager picking players on the market, have been made to ward against Casemiro happening again. Ratcliffe cited the £60m signing of the midfielder as a reason to shake things up at United, presumably with his age and the Galactico tax in mind.

There’s no doubt now, but it was also pretty clear then, that signing a 30-year-old to a four-year contract worth £350,000 per week was not good business. But swearing off Galacticos entirely means they won’t be in the running for players who stand a very good chance of being superstars at Old Trafford.

United have been linked, somewhat spuriously, with both Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior on the flimsy assumption that one of the Brazilian duo would be making way for Kylian Mbappe.

Now, despite Europa League qualification there’s no chance United have the £100m-plus going spare to sign either of them, particularly given the Ralf Rangnick-foretold “open-heart surgery” required to rebuild the entire squad. But further down the line, if and when United return to the Champions League and keep the revenue flooding in, would a ready-made world-class signing still not be acceptable.


No Next Jurgen Klopp
If you were around in the 90s and were told that one day Blackburn winger Jason Wilcox would have total command of the style of football to be played by every Manchester United team from the Under-9s to the first team without ever having been a manager himself, you would ask the individual spinning the yarn to lay off the hallucinogens.

Rule three is that technical director Wilcox will decide the on-pitch philosophy of the whole club, and that’s expected to be a possession-based style. That’s no great surprise given Wilcox worked at Manchester City for a decade, who implemented a similar academy to first-team ethos based around what will presumably be very similar principles that have seen Phil Foden and Rico Lewis move seamlessly into the first team, and others – Douglas Luiz, Cole Palmer – go on to do brilliant things elsewhere.

But was that City style not initiated by Guardiola? It may not matter as most top-level managers now want to control possession, but it feels like they’re doing this the wrong way round. For example, Liverpool wouldn’t have hired Jurgen Klopp and his heavy metal, transitional style had similar restrictions been in place at Liverpool.

It feels like they’re restricting their pool of head coach options to not very good head coaches, because anyone worth their salt surely isn’t going to take kindly to being told how their team is going to play before they even get on the training pitch.

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No Thomas Tuchel
Thomas Tuchel, the current third favourite to replace Erik ten Hag, is very unlikely to be joining Manchester United on the basis of the third, fourth and fifth Ratcliffe rules.

He’s not going to want the style of football he plays to be dictated by Mr Wilcox, and given it’s thought he left Chelsea in part due to disagreements over player purchases and a lack of authority over signings, he’s not going to be keen on being unable to ask for specific players (rule four) or then being sent three options for the position he designates as being in need of reinforcement (rule five).

There is a sense – not just at United but at Liverpool, Chelsea and elsewhere – that the old guard, and Tuchel is perhaps one of the newer members of that brigade, need to move with the times and just accept that data is king; that the recruitment team and sporting directors know best when it comes to the transfer market.

Either they like it or they lump it. Mauricio Pochettino did the latter at Chelsea and we suspect Tuchel and other big-name, experienced managers will be of a similar mind.