MAN UNITED CONFIDENTIAL: Ruthless Ten Hag raises the bar over youth

MAN UNITED CONFIDENTIAL: Ruthless Erik ten Hag raises the bar by refusing to stockpile youngsters and dish out cheap debuts, Oktoberfest causes travel chaos ahead of Bayern clash while club looks Stateside again for new £60m-a-year sponsorship deal

  • Ten Hag has challenged academy hopefuls to prove they’re good enough 
  • Dutchman believes there should be no obligation to keep every young player
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off! 

Any Manchester United visit to Munich will always carry extra significance, and next week’s Champions League group opener against Bayern in Germany is no different.

The two clubs are finalising plans to commemorate United’s return to the scene of the 1958 air disaster for the first time in nearly a decade, and the occasion is bound to stir the emotions.

At United, the club that gave birth to the Busby Babes and rose from the ashes of Munich, there is a singular pride in the spirit of youth.

Every football fan loves a homegrown player. Of course they do. Who doesn’t like to celebrate ‘one of our own’?

At United, however, the sentiment runs that little bit deeper. It’s why they still count the games since 1937 that an academy player has been named in the match-day squad. Brighton’s visit to Old Trafford on Saturday will be number 4,213.

Erik ten Hag has challenged Man United’s academy players to prove they’re good enough

United are finalising plans to commemorate the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, which killed eight members of Matt Busby’s team and 23 people in total

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At times, though, the romanticism surrounding United’s youth policy may have the blurred the club’s judgement. In short, the heart has ruled the head.

Too many players have been kept on the books simply because they were homegrown. 

Too many youngsters who couldn’t quite make the grade have been stockpiled, ironically blocking the path of even younger ones who might have been good enough. Culling academy kids is anathema.

This summer brought a sea change in that approach. Call him ruthless, but Erik ten Hag has taken a more single-minded view of the situation.

The bar has been raised. If you think you’re good enough for United’s first-team then prove it. Otherwise, it’s goodbye and good luck.

There are none of the cheap debuts we saw under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, driven by sentiment. No experimental League Cup teams. It’s no coincidence that Ten Hag went strong in the Carabao Cup and won his first trophy.

The Dutchman’s view is that it’s better to let the young ones leave and pursue a career elsewhere than keep them out of a misplaced sense of obligation. 

So off went the likes of Matej Kovar, Teden Mengi, Zidane Iqbal, Charlie Savage and Marc Jurado this summer.

Up-and-coming United midfielder Zidane Iqbal was sold to Dutch club Utrecht this summer

Charlie Savage moved to League One club Reading having come through United’s academy

Of course, there is a business decision behind this move as well. United have seen how Manchester City and Chelsea have been able to monetise their young, fringe players and decided to do the same.

In these days of stringent Financial Fair Play regulations, academy products count as zero cost in UEFA’s FFP calculations. Therefore, their sales represent pure profit for the club.

United have some way to go to match City, for instance, who banked £66.5million by selling Cole Palmer, James Trafford, Shea Charles and Adedire Mebude.

But they will also benefit from the departure of two senior homegrown players after Dean Henderson joined Crystal Palace in a deal worth up to £20m and Anthony Elanga moved to Nottingham Forest for £15m.

Kovar went to Bayer Leverkusen for £8m and Iqbal to Utrecht for £850,000, while Mengi, Savage and Jurado joined Luton, Reading and Espanyol for nominal fees. 

United banked £15m from the sale of Anthony Elanga to Nottingham Forest

Dean Henderson joined Crystal Palace for £20m as he seeks more game time 

In all those deals, however, United have built in what have been described as beneficial sell-on and buy-back clauses as well as achievable long-term add-ons.

Having worked within FFP rules to spend £183.5m on Rasmus Hojlund, Mason Mount, Andre Onana and Altay Bayindir, it’s understood that United couldn’t have afforded Sofyan Amrabat’s £8.5m loan fee from Fiorentina without selling off some of their young talent.

Clearing the decks has also given more opportunities to younger, brighter talent to shine and Kobbie Mainoo certainly seized his chance on tour before injury cruelly stopped the 18-year-old in his tracks.

United will always keep the red flag flying high, as the song goes in tribute to those who didn’t make it home from Munich. The pride in youth will never die. But sometimes there’s no harm in letting the head rule the heart.


Football fans are hardly renowned for moaning about a beer festival, but United supporters are unhappy over the scheduling of next week’s game in Munich.

It will be held during Oktoberfest, one of the world’s largest festivals. Thousands will flock to Munich for the annual event, which has hiked up prices of flights and hotels for United supporters making the journey to the German capital.

United’s trip to Bayern Munich clashes with Oktoberfest, causing some eye-watering prices

David Moyes was in charge when United last played Bayern in the Champions League in 2014

United have sold out their allocation of 3,779 tickets for the game but fans have reported a lack of available accommodation, while direct flights from Manchester to Munich cost up to £820.

It has forced United fans to get creative. Some are travelling via Salzburg in Austria, a short hop over the border to Munich, others are first heading to Switzerland or other German cities and small numbers are going from Manchester by coach and ferry.

Sportsbreaks, United’s official travel partner, had hoped to run a trip to the game but said it was not possible ‘due to lack of aircraft availability, prohibitive costs, and limited time’.


United target Dino Klapija hopes to have a clearer idea of whether he will move to the club after the international break.

The 16-year old forward who plays for NK Kustosija in Croatia has been called up by USA, the nation of his birth, for their Under-17 squad.

Klapija, who has also been capped at youth level by Croatia, has interest from AC Milan, Juventus, Barcelona and Chelsea but the race for his signature is now considered to be down to a straight decision between United and RB Leipzig.

Dino Klapija has attracted interest from United, as well as several other European clubs

Both clubs are prepared to pay a fee of around £5m for the teenager however, Klapija and his family want to be sure he can settle and continue his education wherever he ends up.

United are also looking at 14-year-old Leeds United winger Finley Gorman who is attracting interest from a number of other clubs including Manchester City.


You don’t have to be a genius to work out the Premier League’s most unpopular owners as the summer transfer window swung shut.

According to new data from AceOdds which used AI to analyse comments from fans across social media, the Glazer family suffered most abuse for their running of Manchester United.

The Americans were well out in front ahead of Everton and Sheffield United with 85 per cent negativity when the window opened, and that had increased to 95 per cent by the time it closed.

United’s tumbling share price and concerns that the Glazers could delay selling the club until 2025 won’t have helped their popularity.

United’s owners, the Glazer family, are steadily becoming more unpopular with the fanbase


No surprise to see United looking Stateside again for a new shirt sponsor as the ill-fated deal with German tech company TeamViewer is brought to a premature end.

United are said to be in talks with Qualcomm over escalating their existing partnership with the US tech giant into a £60m-a-year shirt sponsorship.

Qualcomm, who own the Snapdragon brand, could replace TeamViewer who have been trying to get out of their £47m-a-year deal that was due to run until 2026.

The club’s three previous sponsors – Chevrolet, Aon and AIG – had strong US connections and a young United XI played Wrexham at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on this summer’s tour of America.

United have other US sponsors and Bryan Robson has been in New York this week working in collaboration with DHL.


In the week that England renew hostilities with the Auld Enemy at Hampden Park, United have arranged a friendly north of the border for their Under-21s against Rangers on Friday.

The United youngsters certainly provide good entertainment. Their last two Premier League games produced a 10-1 over Stoke and a 5-5 draw with Sunderland after United led 5-0 in the second half.

United’s Under-19 side are set to compete in the UEFA Youth League again this season

Many of the squad will be in the Under-19 party that travels to Munich to play Bayern in the UEFA Youth League group opener next week.

The competition mirrors the Champions League schedule so the United kids will travel with the first team to Munich and play in the afternoon before watching the Group A clash at The Allianz Arena.

Contributors: Simon Jones, Liam Morgan


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