Ratcliffe’s ‘fury’ is wasted on Man Utd if he doesn’t heed Casemiro and Varane warnings

Ian Watson
Manchester United investor Sir Jim Ratcliffe, manager Erik ten Hag, Raphael Varane and Casemiro
Sir Jim Ratcliffe needs to help Erik ten Hag by learning from mistakes over previous recruitment.

The big-money signings of Casemiro and Raphael Varane were symptomatic a club being fixed on the fly. Sir Jim Ratcliffe can’t ignore the lessons from Man Utd’s recruitment and sales failures…

Casemiro’s decline in form and status is as alarming as it has been rapid. The Brazilian was brilliant for Manchester United for much of last season – the parts for which he wasn’t suspended – but this term… oh boy! Over a single summer, the midfielder apparently aged at least five years.

The 31-year-old’s struggles are said to have left Sir Jim Ratcliffe ‘furious’. The incoming investor isn’t so concerned over how the ageing process has so devastatingly caught up with Casemiro – that happens to everyone – but how and why United went all in on the ex-Real Madrid star when it was obvious his shelf life was limited.

Ratcliffe might wonder the same about Raphael Varane. The five-time Champions League winner can’t get a game ahead of Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof these days, which represents a similarly sharp decline as Casemiro. Varane, likewise, is pretty pissed off about it all, even if Bayern Munich might offer an appealing escape route.

It is clear that Casemiro and Varane have little role to play in whatever plan Ratcliffe may have hatched to drag United back to where he and they feel they ought to be. But, if little else, United’s huge outlay on the ageing pair should highlight to Ratcliffe that the Red Devils cannot be rebuilt on the fly.

That is the approach Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold took, signing big names for big money in the hope of a quick transformational hit. The type Casemiro offered for half a season. But that, as we know now, isn’t sustainable.

Casemiro was lured to the club by big money over longer terms than he might have got elsewhere. That was the premium United had to pay on account of the previous incompetence that left the side in the sorry state in which Erik ten Hag inherited it.

The necessity of such deals combined with big investments in raw young talent, ranging from the likes of supposedly first-team-ready Antony and Rasmus Hojlund, to future prospects like Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo, have made for a muddled, confusing approach to rebuilding.

Once his feet are under the Old Trafford table, Ratcliffe’s priority must be to bring some clarity of vision to United’s recruitment. Arnold is on his way and John Murtough’s position looks in jeopardy. Whoever takes over, be it Michael Edwards or any of the other names being flippantly tossed around, has to seize control.

United are not obliged to divulge their decision-making processes but when they are as haphazard as they obviously are, they ought to be accountable. Who has been making the decisions? Ten Hag wanted Antony, which is almost a sackable offence in itself. Despite how it appeared through the summer, Mason Mount is very obviously not his man. So who decided that United couldn’t be without the ex-Chelsea midfielder despite the obvious priorities elsewhere?

Such mistakes are symptomatic of a reactive and off-the-cuff approach. One that Ratcliffe must rid the club of. Which requires patience and, almost certainly, more pain before the pay-off.

The clamour for signings will be loud and intense but there is little point adding more new players to a squad that United have tried and failed to patch up. Ratcliffe must accept that the early phase of his rebuild will mean more outlay beyond the huge bill for his 25 per cent.

United have been dreadful at selling players in recent years and worse for keeping around those they clearly have no use for in the hope of a patsy presenting themselves. In some cases, United have even offered pay rises and contract extensions while they wait for a sucker that doesn’t exist.

If players must be paid to go, or packed off for a fee lower than they might have fetched for a functioning football club, so be it. A ruthless clear-out before a coherent recruitment drive would certainly make Ten Hag’s job easier.

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag.

So too would a demonstration of the manager’s authority. Ten Hag has had to tread on eggshells around so many of his underperforming players ever since he arrived, something he’s evidently not comfortable with. And he would be entitled to ask why he ought to?

Varane is the latest to supposedly fall out with the manager, and yet again, the story goes that United’s coaches are considering a softer approach to satisfy the dressing room. F*** that. Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal have all allowed their managers to bin players and personalities they feel are becoming a burden or are simply not pulling their weight. At Old Trafford, it seems those presences are listened to more intently than any coach or manager.

Varane will likely go, if not in January then almost certainly in the summer. Casemiro too. With them has to follow the notion that United can be fixed by big names on the descent of their career arc.

Ratcliffe and his team, once the decks have been cleared, should be looking in the areas Arnold, Murtough and co have largely ignored. At players for whom the highest level is their natural next step; not those who have long-since made that move for the benefit of another club, or raw potential who could just as likely fall by the wayside as kick on. More like Bruno Fernandes and Lisandro Martinez; fewer Casemiros and Varanes.

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