Erik ten Hag says the first three weeks of pre-season with Manchester United have been “so far, so good”, but admits he would have liked all signings in place by now as their pursuit Frenkie De Jong runs on.
United returned to training on Monday, June 27 and flew out to Thailand 12 days later, where they beat Liverpool 4-0 in Bangkok.
They then moved onto Australia for the second leg of their tour, where they came from behind to thump Melbourne Victory 4-1, with friendlies against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa next up later this week.
Sky Sports’ Melissa Reddy reported earlier on Monday that United players are feeling ‘physically fit and mentally sharper’ since Ten Hag took over at Old Trafford and, in an exclusive interview, the Dutchman admitted he was impressed – but not yet satisfied – with what he has seen from the group.
“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.
“The demand is they have to get more fit than they are now. But we are building it, it’s also the responsibility of the players themselves to be fit.
“They’ve responded really well but I know we are in the start of a process, and it takes time. 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.”
As Ten Hag has set about remoulding the squad after predecessor Ralf Rangnick oversaw a third sixth-place finish in six seasons last term, Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez have joined the club so far this summer, representing an outlay of around £72m.
The latter pair have joined within the last week and the United boss – who wanted to bring in reinforcements in defence and midfield this summer, following the departures of Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic and Andreas Pereira – has outlined what the new recruits can bring.
He continued: “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. 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.”
It is, however, the long-running pursuit of Frenkie de Jong that remains front and centre of the club’s summer plans.
United and Barcelona have a broad agreement in place for a £72m deal to bring the 25-year-old to Manchester, but with a conclusion nowhere in sight, Ten Hag admitted that he would have liked the club’s business to have been wrapped up already.
“That’s for sure,” he said.
“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.”
In the meantime, existing members of the squad, including Fred, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, have turned in eye-catching displays in the two friendly outings to date.
Young prospects such as Zidane Iqbal and Charlie Savage appear to have taken first-team duties in their stride, too, and Ten Hag’s words suggest this season will offer a chance to wipe the slate clean.
“Every new season is a new start,” he added. “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.”