Erik ten Hag may be expecting Manchester United to provide him with the funds to take on Man City after their capture of Erling Haaland, and the Dutchman already has a target in sight
There may be some envious glances from Manchester United towards their neighbours Manchester City after they announced the imminent arrival of £51million signing Erling Haaland. But Erik ten Hag has every reason to feel optimistic, having already identified his own version.
The Dutchman will have funds to spend and the power that not many past Man United managers have enjoyed at Old Trafford this summer after major changes to the hierarchy at the club. And his first target is thought to be Benfica striker Darwin Nunez, who has been in sensational form this season, bagging six goals in the Champions League.
Man City have landed a blow to their rivals in landing Norwegian star Haaland ahead of next season. And while Nunez is not quite at his level in terms of his record playing in a top-five European league, there is plenty to suggest the Uruguayan could become just as lethal. The 22-year-old has impressed in the Champions League this season and was regarded as the key reason behind the Portuguese outfit’s run to the quarter-finals, before they were knocked out by Liverpool.
United scouts were in Lisbon to watch Nunez score in the first leg in April and he repeated the trick by finding the net at Anfield in a thrilling 3-3 draw, proving that he can score against tougher opposition and is more than just another Primeira Liga flat-track bully. He led the line with the aura of a classic No9, challenging for aerial duels and hassling the Liverpool defence. It is fair to say they would not relish facing him again next season.
United won’t be deluding themselves that Nunez is just as good as Haaland yet. The Norwegian’s rise to becoming one of football’s lethal strikers has been meteoric, while Nunez has improved significantly since his brief spell in Spain with Almeria in 2019. But the similar build, age and goalscoring prowess of the pair makes it difficult not to compare them – and if Nunez ends up at Old Trafford, it would prove to be an entertaining battle.
There are also continuing doubts surfacing over Cristiano Ronaldo’s future at the club after United failed to qualify for the Champions League. The 37-year-old has bagged 24 goals in all competitions and replacing those goals will be hard to come by, so if Ten Hag is ready to let the Portuguese superstar leave, replacing him with a proven goalscorer like Nunez – who has notched 32 goals this season – will be crucial.
As reported by Mirror Football, Benfica value the 22-year-old at around £70m and have a £130m buyout clause to protect their prized asset. United have proven in the past they are willing to invest for the right player and it is crucial that if Ten Hag wants him at all costs, the Red Devils get out their chequebook. Having seen City make a marquee signing with Haaland, a player they once wanted in the red shirt, it would represent a statement to capture Nunez ahead of several European clubs.
The race for the top four is becoming more difficult with every season and United’s troubles this season reflect that. Rangnick has already hinted there could “up to six new arrivals” this summer, but in the case of improving the squad, quality must prevail over quantity.
There is little doubt that United are far behind Man City and Liverpool at present, and Ten Hag may need at least two or three transfer windows to turn the club back into genuine title challengers. But responding to City’s signing of Haaland with a big-name arrival of their own would send the message that United are serious about returning to the top in the years to come.