MAN UNITED CONFIDENTIAL: Dan Ashworth increasingly likely to become football director, Varane and Ten Hag set aside their differences… and the manager issues a rallying cry to players after dismal European exit

John Murtough has been holding meetings this week over January transfer deals even though it seems increasingly likely that Dan Ashworth will replace him as United’s football director once Sir Jim Ratcliffe moves into Old Trafford.

Ashworth holds a similar position at Newcastle but has links to INEOS sporting director Sir Dave Brailsford and is said to be highly rated by Ratcliffe’s team as they prepare to complete a £1.25billion investment in United.

However, if the deal is not announced this week, it is likely to be after Christmas and then there will be a further delay of between six to eight weeks before it is ratified.

Murtough will remain in situ for the January transfer window and is then likely to be given a new role at United once INEOS move in.

Rasmus Hojlund’s big miss at Anfield in the goalless draw with Liverpool on Sunday would have been particularly painful for Murtough who was an enthusiastic proponent of United going ‘young and hungry’ in the transfer market last summer. Hojlund was United’s flagship £72m signing, his long-term potential seeing him regarded as preferential to Harry Kane.

So far, it’s not paid off. Kane has 20 Bundesliga goals for Bayern Munich while 20-year-old Hojlund is still looking for his first in the Premier League more than four months in.

Dan Ashworth is increasingly likely to take over as football director at Manchester United

Ashworth is the choice of Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is on the brink of taking a 25 per cent stake

Ashworth is the choice of Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is on the brink of taking a 25 per cent stake

Rapha riddle for United

Raphael Varane’s future at Manchester United should become clearer in the next couple of weeks after he and manager Erik ten Hag appeared to have set aside their differences.

Varane has been United’s best player in the last two games against Liverpool and Bayern Munich after returning to the starting line-up for the first time in seven weeks.

The Frenchman took umbrage at Ten Hag for saying that he was left out of the Manchester derby for tactical reasons, and was unhappy that veteran Jonny Evans was selected ahead of him on several occasions.

The situation seems to have been resolved for now but it has cast doubt over Varane’s future at Old Trafford just as it’s emerged that he is out of contract next summer, and not in 2025 as first thought.

If United don’t trigger the 12-month extension in Varane’s £340,000-a-week deal before the end of the year, he will be free to speak to foreign clubs from January 1 over a free transfer in the summer.

Raphael Varane has worked his way back into Erik ten Hag's plans after being frozen out

Raphael Varane has worked his way back into Erik ten Hag’s plans after being frozen out

The French defender and the United boss appear to have set aside their differences

The French defender and the United boss appear to have set aside their differences

Although United have confirmed they will offer extensions to Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Victor Lindelof, they are remaining tight-lipped over Varane. It’s already known that Antony Martial will not be offered another 12 months, paving the way for his departure.

The plot thickened after Mail Sport revealed that United’s football director John Murtough has been in Saudi Arabia trying to broker deals for United players thought to include Varane, Jadon Sancho, Casemiro and Martial.

Ten Hag’s rallying cry 

Erik ten Hag has been hammering home the message to his players that there is still plenty to play for this season despite going out of Europe.

Ten Hag gathered his squad together in training in the wake of the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich last week and spelt out the importance of targeting the highest possible finish in the league to secure a top-four place.

Ten Hag told his players there was plenty to play for after United crashed out of Europe

United's dismal European campaign prompted a rallying cry to his players from Ten Hag

United’s dismal European campaign prompted a rallying cry to his players from Ten Hag

‘The message from Erik and his staff was that the league is still a great target,’ a source told Confidential. ‘He said that things can change very quickly, and there are still a lot of games to go.’

United will also want to go as far as they can in the FA Cup after losing the final to Manchester City last season, with a third-round trip to Wigan Athletic their first hurdle next month.

Patrick holds the fort

United interim chief executive Patrick Stewart has been holding a series of meetings with staff and fans to update them on the INEOS investment.

Stewart has replaced Richard Arnold, who left the club after accepting that he would not be part of the new set-up under Ratcliffe, although former Juventus CEO Jean-Claude Blanc is favourite to land the role on a permanent basis.

Stewart provided an update to members of the Fans Forum on December 13 and may have been surprised at the strength of feeling from supporters, who made their frustrations known over the protracted nature of the takeover process during the meeting.

Interim United CEO Patrick Stewart (right) has been meeting with fans and staff in recent weeks

Interim United CEO Patrick Stewart (right) has been meeting with fans and staff in recent weeks

Confidential understands some forum members implored the owners to get the deal with Ratcliffe done as soon as possible.

Fans also challenged statements from senior executives about the Glazers’ supposed engagement with forum representatives – reminder that Joel Glazer has not attend a Fans Forum for more than two years despite promises that he would do so.

Gore out the door?

Donny van de Beek is set to have a medical at Eintracht Frankfurt ahead of his move to the Bundesliga, and he may not be the only United midfielder going out on loan in the January window.

Donny van de Beek is set to join Eintracht Frankfurt on loan until the end of the season

Donny van de Beek is set to join Eintracht Frankfurt on loan until the end of the season

Promising youngster Dan Gore could also be leaving the club in a loan move to Preston

Promising youngster Dan Gore could also be leaving the club in a loan move to Preston

Dan Gore is also wanted by Preston North End, although it remains to be seen if United will let the youngster spend the rest of the season at Deepdale.

Gore made his debut off the bench in United’s Carabao Cup win over Crystal Palace in September. It remains his only senior appearance to date, but the teenager has been an unused substitute on several occasions this season – including the last two games against Liverpool and Bayern Munich as Van de Beek was left out in preparation for the move to Frankfurt.

With Christian Eriksen retuning to training on Monday, and Mason Mount and Casemiro also on their way back from injury, United may be more open to letting Gore get some first-team experience in the Championship at Preston.

Skinner feeling the heat

Trouble seems to be brewing for United’s women’s team after some fans called for coach Marc Skinner’s head following Sunday’s home defeat to Liverpool.

Skinner guided United to second place in the WSL and the FA Cup final last season, but this campaign has not gone as smoothly with United in fourth place, seven points behind leaders Chelsea.

Highly-rated assistant boss Martin Ho left at the end of June to take over at Norwegian club of SK Brann Kvinner, and replacement Dan Bale did not come in until November.

It’s also felt that United made too many signings late in the summer and Skinner made a pointed reference to the club being more ‘aggressive’ in the transfer market to be able to compete.

Some United fans have called for women's boss Mark Skinner to be sacked after defeat by Liverpool

Some United fans have called for women’s boss Mark Skinner to be sacked after defeat by Liverpool

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Fans’ £1m ticket boost

Fans have raised £1million for the Manchester United Foundation through the club’s match ticket donation scheme.

Introduced ahead of last season, it allows supporters to donate the cost of their ticket to the foundation when they cannot attend matches at Old Trafford.

Nearly 8,000 fans have used the scheme and donated the cost of more than 23,000 tickets. An additional £100,000 has been raised by supporters rounding up the cost of online purchases since August 2022.

United’s chief operating officer Collette Roche said: ‘I want to thank our fans for the generosity shown since the ticket donation option was introduced just 18 months ago. The money raised enables the foundation to broaden its work with young people who need support across the local community.’

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