Ambition in football does not just come down to spending money in the transfer market. God knows United have done that since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. It’s about keeping hold of your best players, too.
United have made a concerted effort in recent months to tie down key assets – just as Man City, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea have done in the last year.
While a few eyebrows were raised when Chris Smalling and Scott McTominay were handed extensions – despite Smalling being, arguably, United’s most consistent defender in 2018 – keeping hold of Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw has been a real statement of intent.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it all when he declared ‘this is the perfect club for Anthony to progress his development as a top-class forward’ after the Frenchman put pen to paper on a new five-year deal.
Despite all the turmoil in recent months, Martial and Shaw can see United are on the right track and the plan is not to stop there. Club chiefs remain in talks with Ander Herrera, Ashley Young and Juan Mata about extending their deals, which expire at the end of June.
United also remain confident that David de Gea will, eventually, extend his contract – which runs out next summer – and his camp are also similarly optimistic.
De Gea has many close friends at United, including goalkeeping coach Emilio Alvarez, and his partner of eight years, Edurne, has moved to Manchester – even though she mainly works in Spain.
One of the main reasons Solskjaer kept Alvarez on was because of his bond with De Gea and, tellingly, the Spaniard was one of the few staff members who did not leave the club after Mourinho’s departure.
De Gea has again been touched by the fans’ support, following a difficult World Cup, and just needs that assurance that United will match his ambition going forward.
Keeping hold of Martial is a positive step and whoever is appointed as United’s permanent manager in the summer will find an exciting core of players to work with. ‘Football heritage’ as Mourinho put it.
Getting these contracts sorted is as important as what happens in the transfer market in the summer and the reality is wholesale changes are not planned.
United will look at two or three positions that need strengthening, such as centre-back, central midfield and full-back, and the club have always maintained there is £100m available for the right player.
The club are already showing De Gea they mean business.