Man Utd's five worst decisions since Erik ten Hag took over
Erik ten Hag was always going to require more than two summer transfer windows to form a Manchester United squad capable of perfectly executing his precise tactical vision. For example, he has splashed £138.5million on midfielders since his arrival last year, and there is still a blatant need for further upgrades.
Mason Mount and Sofyan Amrabat match Ten Hag’s high-energy, press-resistant mould of a midfielder as he continues his quest to make United the best transition team in world football.
But Christian Eriksen’s best days are behind him, as are Casemiro, who only arrived in a £70m deal last August after United unsuccessfully spent the entire summer chasing Frenkie de Jong, a completely different style of player.
Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Fred and Donny van de Beek were already at Old Trafford. Ten Hag has made Fernandes his captain but has sold Fred and also put McTominay and Van de Beek in the shop window.
The emergence of Hannibal Mejbri and Kobbie Mainoo on United’s academy conveyor offers hope for the future. But Ten Hag needs starting quality now while his midfield continues to look dysfunctional.
He could get precisely that by exploring the possibility of bringing one of the club’s most promising academy graduates back to M16.
Angel Gomes arrived through the door aged six. At 13, he represented United at U17 level. He played for the U18s just a year later.
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Fast forward to May 2017, Gomes received the prestigious Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Year award. The next day, he joined Jose Mourinho’s first-team squad in training.
Shortly after, Gomes replaced Wayne Rooney in the 88th minute of United’s 2-0 win against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford aged 16 years and 263 days. He became the club’s youngest player since Duncan Edwards in doing so.
Gomes was destined to become a United great, but a lack of senior opportunities under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prompted an emotional exit in 2020.
After 14 years with the Red Devils, the talented midfielder decided against signing a new contract, joining Lille on a free transfer.
Gomes, now 23, has since explained his emotional departure, admitting his despair at leaving his boyhood club after showing so much promise.
“When people ask me how difficult it was to leave, I try to explain. But I still don’t think they really understand. I was literally in bits,” Gomes told SPORTBible.
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“As I was saying goodbye to the team, everything was fine. Obviously, I was a little emotional, but as I was leaving the training ground, I ended up seeing James Garner and Teden Mengi — two teammates that I grew up playing with.
“It was horrible, to be honest. I teared up, and my voice went. I got in my car and said goodbye to the security guards with tears streaming down my face. I just couldn’t control myself.”
Gomes is just one year older than a similarly exciting player to spring from United’s youth ranks, Mason Greenwood, and according to The Athletic he acted as a brotherly figure to his teammate during their respective rises.
Greenwood is also no longer playing at Old Trafford, spending this season on loan at Getafe with little possibility of continuing his United career upon his return.
But for Gomes, returning to his boyhood club could help Ten Hag take a significant step towards boasting a midfield that would draw comparisons with his well-oiled machines at Ajax.
The England U21 international, earning 18 caps and knocking on the door of Gareth Southgate’s senior side, has realised his potential in France.
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After spending the 2020/21 season on loan at Portuguese side Boavista, Gomes has since established himself as a regular starter at Lille.
He has made 80 appearances over the last two seasons – and the start of the current campaign – thriving as a defensive midfielder despite his 5ft 6in frame.
Gomes possesses on-the-ball traits that would make him a fine acquisition to Ten Hag’s midfield. He has showcased agility and calmness in possession that would counter doubts over whether he could meet the Premier League’s physical demands.
Having a destroyer in the form of Amrabat or a younger alternative alongside him could be a recipe for success with a relentless creator like Mount or Fernandes ahead.
Gomes would likely be interested in joining Ten Hag’s project if he is primed for a prominent role, given the heartbreaking nature of his departure three years ago.
It’s an avenue undoubtedly worth exploring next summer if Gomes, out of contract at Lille in 2025, continues his upward trajectory.
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