Manchester United might have the perfect timeline for their dream midfield signing
The key to a successful transfer strategy is planning. Manchester United often start looking ahead to the next window as soon as one closes, drawing up a long list of potential targets into their bespoke database system.
In summers where United have planned well, they get their business done early and effectively. Last year, they added Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane to their squad following long pursuits and allowed a lapse in their approach to make an impromptu move for Cristiano Ronaldo.
In summers where United have planned poorly, they get their business done in a mad rush. A year ago, they signed four players on deadline day in the shape of Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, Amad and Facundo Pellistri—none of whom have really been a success.
This summer, the scrutiny will be even harsher as the Erik ten Hag regime begins, and the club are keen to prove they have changed for the better by getting him in as early as possible so that transfer planning can be accelerated.
Earlier this week, United's manager-in-waiting met with club officials in Amsterdam for a recruitment meeting, where he was joined by Mitchell Van der Gaag and Steve McClaren, two men set to join his backroom staff at Old Trafford.
At the top of their agenda will no doubt have been midfield options, with club sources previously admitting it is their 'biggest problem' ahead of the summer window.
Paul Pogba's exit, coupled with the unexpected departure of Nemanja Matic, has only further amplified the need for at least one new midfielder, while the preference would be for two, one who is a defensive specialist and another who can help them control matches better.
United are weighing up a possible deal for Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong and Ten Hag is understood to have reached out to the player's agent, Ali Dursun, to gauge whether De Jong would be receptive to joining his project.
The club have also been working on a move for Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips separate to De Jong. Leeds have been hopeful of keeping the 26-year-old for one more year but they are now favourites to be relegated and have only two fixtures remaining.
With the summer budget set to be heavily influenced by player sales, it is still difficult to plan a precise plan of action for the opening weeks of the summer, but no matter what happens, it is clear that signing a defensive specialist in midfield has to be the priority.
The prospect of a Ten Hag and De Jong reunion has got many supporters excited, and although he would be an excellent addition, he is still not the type of midfielder United are most in need of.
In a worst-case scenario, United might only end up with one new midfielder this summer, as well as the returning Donny van de Beek and James Garner, and if that were to be the case, they would need to make amends next year instead.
However, it could work to their advantage in the long run.
While De Jong would be a statement signing this summer, an even clearer statement of intent would come if they were able to lure teenage sensation Jude Bellingham to the club.
United already tried to sign the 18-year-old prior to his move to Germany, but he rejected an offer two years ago because he saw a much clearer progression plan in the Bundesliga.
It certainly paid off, with Bellingham having shone in the Champions League for his new side as well as having established himself as a regular England international.
It is sometimes easy to take for granted just how good Bellingham is for his age, and he remains one of the most exciting midfielders in world football, perhaps only truly rivalled by Pedri at Barcelona and Eduardo Camavinga at Real Madrid in his position.
The teenage talent this week revealed he has no plans to leave Dortmund for at least another year, with the Bundesliga club unlikely to part with both him and Erling Haaland in the same window anyway.
“The only future I think about is the next game for Dortmund," he told Ruhr Nachrichten BVB. "I look forward to next season. I look forward to it finally starting. “But yes, I will be here next season and I will be ready.”
However, it doesn't mean he won't be available in a year's time, when United might well be still in the market for a midfielder who can help them get a firmer grip on games.
As such, United could well still have a chance of finally luring Bellingham to Old Trafford, with the timeline of their own long-term rebuild potentially intersecting ideally with the teenager's own career plans.
The challenge is making sure they have a project worth joining in a year's time.