Ten Hag 'realistic' over Man United's drawn-out pursuit of Barcelona midfielder De Jong

Dutch manager said every player will be given a 'new start' but admitted it is taking time for the squad to adapt to his methods

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Erik ten Hag has said he would prefer to have concluded all of Manchester United's transfer business in time for the start of pre-season but is "realistic" as the Premier League club continue their drawn-out pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong.

United's squad is starting to take shape under Ten Hag, who took over as manager in May, with the arrivals of Dutch left-back Tyrell Malacia from Feyenoord, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen on a free transfer, and Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez from former club Ajax.

Still, there remain plenty of gaps in the squad to fill ahead of the new season, particularly in midfield following the departures of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, and Andreas Pereira.

Barcelona's De Jong is Ten Hag's top midfield target and an agreement over a £72 million ($86m) transfer has reportedly been in place for some time. However, a conclusion to the deal does not appear close, with reports claiming the 25-year-old Netherlands international is reluctant to leave Barcelona for United, while the €17m ($17.3m) Barca owe De Jong in deferred wages has created another obstacle.

Ten Hag admitted that he would have preferred to have wrapped up the deal by now, in addition to any other transfer business United hope to conduct this summer, but conceded the nature of professional football means that is not always possible.

"That's for sure," Ten Hag said in an interview with Sky Sports. "The best and the most perfect situation is when you start pre-season with the squad fully equipped, but most of the time that's not the fact of football, so I am realistic and I have to deal with the fact."

As United continue to push for De Jong, Ten Hag said he was pleased with the signings the club have already made and believes they can bring something new to the team.

"Eriksen is an experienced player, he's played in Holland, Italy and especially England with Spurs, so a long career and also a lot of caps for the Danish national squad," the Dutchman said. "I think the whole Premier League knows what he can do, what he can contribute to the team, and I would call that creativity.

"Martinez is a different type. He's a warrior, he brings aggressiveness, but he can also play football and has a good left foot. That is also what you need in the balance of the team, players who can create and also players who can defend.

"The defending part, we want to be proactive, and to be in the highest intensity defending. We are now three weeks on our way, and we are working on the defending part as well to be proactive."

As important as recruiting new players will be Ten Hag's ability to get the best out of United's current players. The likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have struggled to find their best form in recent seasons but have impressed so far during United's pre-season tour of the United States. Meanwhile, academy players such as Charlie Savage and Zidane Iqbal have made the most of opportunities in the team.

Ten Hag said every player will be given a fresh start and insisted it is down to them to make the most of the opportunity.

"Every new season is a new start," he said. "Of course there is a past, but we don't have to look back at the past, we have to look into the future.

"Those players have high potential, and when we construct a team, and they take the responsibility for their fitness, I am sure they will perform, and we will get the right results.

"I think it's always a matter of developing. That's with experienced players and with younger players. I am a coach, I am not afraid, if players are good enough and are old enough, I will play them.

"We set a high standard, and values, and the team respond to it. We are happy with that."

While being happy with United's progress in pre-season, Ten Hag revealed that there is still much work ahead to be ready for the new campaign.

"I see they respond well, and every session they give maximum, and that is also transferred into the game," he said. "I am not satisfied, I think they have to bring more, but it will not come overnight. It takes time, it's a process.

"We need the full pre-season, minimum, but I know also at the start of the season we will not be ready, but I know also at the start we will need results."

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Updated: July 19, 2022, 10:49 AM