Erik ten Hag

The summer transfer window might have only just closed, but Manchester United already need to be laying the foundations to ensure the next one can be a success too. Erik ten Hag was backed with £225.41m this summer, the most the club has ever spent in a single window.

United addressed most of their issues with the players they brought in, and even though there was a desire for another attacker and a full-back, there will be no sympathy if Ten Hag is unable to secure a top-four finish with the squad he has assembled.

Signing a proper striker will no doubt be the priority next year, particularly with Cristiano Ronaldo looking likely to leave at the end of his contract, though academy starlet Charlie McNeill could earn a permanent first-team promotion to add another option upfront.

Next on the list, though, will be a progressive central midfielder, the type of player Ten Hag prioritised this summer with his failed pursuit of Frenkie de Jong. United compensated by adding Casemiro to the team, but he is a completely different profile of player, and Christian Eriksen has been moulded into the stop-gap for the more expansive role.

United could well revive their interest in the Dutchman next year, though any move would rely on them returning to the Champions League and De Jong actively wanting to leave the club, something that never interested him this summer.

However, if United are really interested in signing a progressive midfielder next summer, then Jude Bellingham should be the name at the very top of their list.

The 19-year-old is already a household name across Europe thanks to his exploits at Borussia Dortmund and will likely grow his reputation when he features for England at the World Cup later this year.

The story of Bellingham was a key narrative heading into Dortmund’s clash with City this week, and although he ended up on the losing side, the teenager gave his side the lead and shone brightly against one of the best teams in world football.

Bellingham is revered for his incredible ability on the pitch, but what sets him apart from most talented teenagers is his maturity and the way in which he conducts himself, regularly leading by example.

“The way he speaks and plays for a 19-year-old is not normal,” former United midfielder Owen Hargreaves said after the game. “Popping up and scoring against City, he’s a Swiss-army knife. He’s up there with the best. Jude can be physical like Stevie G [Steven Gerrard] and play balls over the top; those are the players you’ve got to worry about. He starts for me [at the World Cup] definitely.”

Despite being a central midfielder, Bellingham has scored the most goals by an English teenager in the history of the Champions League and also leads the way in regards to the most appearances too.

Gary Lineker likened him to Bryan Robson for his performance on Wednesday night, and it seems almost certain that Birmingham-born Bellingham will go on to have a similar career to the greats he is being compared to already.

The fact that he is already performing at such a high standard in both Europe and at international level also indicates that he should have little problem making a move to an even bigger club should he want to next summer. The only question is, who?

United, City, Liverpool and Real Madrid have all been linked with moves for the teenager this week, but it will be Bellingham who does the talking at any transfer meetings, such is his position of power as one of the most exciting players in the world right now.

Prior to his move to Dortmund, the former Birmingham midfielder was given a tour of the United training complex as they looked to win the race for his signature, but not even a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson was enough to convince Bellingham that the move was right for him.

Playing time was of the utmost importance to him, something Dortmund not only promised, but have delivered since he moved to them two years ago.

What is clear is that Bellingham knows what he wants and has been well advised on his career moves too. It will no doubt be a similar case if he is to move at the end of the season. If United are going to compete for his signature, they will not only need to make the midfielder promises, but they will need to earn his trust and prove that they can deliver them as well.

The backing of Ten Hag this summer to spend a record amount on his own personal targets was a clear indication of the club’s faith in the new manager, and such trust is sure to be an attractive trait for any potential new recruit.

It was in March 2020 that Bellingham had his tour of United’s facilities ahead of a possible summer move, and if he enjoys a successful World Cup, then the teenager might well start to consider his options by next spring.

United might only have six months to prove why Old Trafford should be Bellingham’s next destination.

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