EXCLUSIVE: Dr Eckner discusses United’s plans

Dr. Constantin Eckner is a well-respected commentator/correspondent for the BBC, ESPN and Sport1, as well as a writer for The Times and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Over the years, he’s become one of the top sources on the transfer front.

For the past few years, the transfer window has seen rumours and stories of the latest player movements captivate football fans all over the country and the globe. With many journalists looking to get the latest scoop, I had the chance to speak to a true tier-one source in Dr. Constantin Eckner. In this interview, I picked Dr. Eckner’s brains on the latest transfer stories surrounding Manchester United – and his take on the circus act that is currently the ownership uncertainty surrounding the club, to which his answers can be found below.

What’s the latest on Mason Mount?

“It is just a waiting game now from United’s perspective, they’re just waiting for Chelsea to say ‘yes’ and agree to a deal. Mount does not have, really, much of a future at Chelsea, especially now with Nkunku also there and also they are trying to slim down the squad.”

They can’t sell all these to Saudi Arabia, so yeah right now it’s more of a waiting game and United are hoping Chelsea will give in at some point. This way they can then get Mount for what’s would be considered a reasonable price instead of a high price, also given that Mount hasn’t played that big of a role during the last campaign.

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What happened to the Declan Rice deal?

“United felt out and reached to the parties but Declan Rice was either going to stay in London, as he’s from there, grew up there and he’s friends with a lot of London players from Arsenal, Chelsea and other clubs. So, he would have either go to Chelsea or Arsenal, or to a club that will give him the security of winning trophies – which for a little while was Bayern Münich and then Manchester City, although Manchester City were just driving the price up to be honest.”

“Bayern Münich dropped out of the race when they noticed that, first of all, Rice wasn’t too fond of a move abroad and also that they might have to pay too much money to get him because they also have other transfer targets. So, United were, sort of, somewhat in the mix because they are always in a sense, as they reach out to all agents, all camps and parties but they were never seriously in the race for Declan Rice.

“Also, you can question whether they had to be in the race. I mean they still have Casemiro, of course he’s older I know, but then you only should have one holding midfielder as more is not a factor in possession and pressing possession football.”

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Are Manchester United interested in Moisés Caicedo?

“United are observing the situation but sources say he wants to go to Chelsea, so it’s more of a what if that Chelsea and Brighton deal falls through – because both are nowhere close to an agreement. Of course, then, you can come in and maybe pick up Caicedo because United are basically in the same position as Bayern again, funnily enough. Bayern are also observing the whole negotiation because they also looking at a holding midfielder.

“Caicedo would prefer Chelsea. Brighton want a certain amount of money in terms of the transfer fee, Chelsea have tried to offer players because they want to slim down their squad as Pochettino doesn’t want to work with like forty people. So, they are nowhere near agreement but I would also not predict that Chelsea and Brighton won’t come to an agreement after all as, I mean, the transfer window is open for another two months so there’s enough time.

“United and Bayern, as well as other clubs, are more observing so if something happens then they can still try to pick up Caicedo, as Brighton are not opposed to selling playersunlike Napoli who just like to keep their players forever. Brighton’s business model is different; they just picked up on a free transfer Mahmoud Dahoud from Dortmund, who is not the exact same player but still a centre-midfielder, so it is a situation where sides like United are waiting in the shadows a bit and waiting for an outcome.

“I mean this is something they should do because if Caicedo ends up on the market again then you should be ready to sign himbut he’s more set on joining Chelsea right now because Kante has gone, Kovačić has gone. So, in terms of starting eleven, he has a centre-midfielder spot as they don’t have a top level holding midfielder right now and Chelsea have come off the back of a bad campaign, of course, but a new manager coming in, players leaving and top players there will see him become a focal point. Also, Pochettino and Ten Hag I seem them as, somewhat, on an equal level, but in terms of improvement Ten Hag may be a bit better, however, playing under Pochettino can be attractive as well.”

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Will De Gea stay, or are United looking to sign André Onana?

“The whole De Gea situation has become kind of weird and Man Utd might come out of this looking silly if they don’t have anyone in the end, right, in terms of a proven number 1 goalkeeper at that level. Inter are just like most of the Italian clubs, they are short on money basically as Inter can only sign players on free transfers, more or less, or on small money transfers. So, Onana is totally possible because Inter would agree to a decent price or maybe negotiate the price up to a certain level, but not much.”

“Ten Hag knowing Onana is also a factor and there was a sense of caution with Ten Hag bringing in these players from the Eredivisie, basically, right. However, it turned out well, all things considered and I mean Harry Maguire is now the one player who might be sold as others who came in have taken his spot more or less.

“I mean the same with like Christian Eriksen, of course it’s a bit of a different story, but still the same thing in a sense because Ten Hag knew Eriksen and it worked out well, from my point of view. So, yeah, he knows Onana would be the favourite but also, with Onana, the deal can be made as Inter are not in a position to just say ‘no’ to big money offers.

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What’s the latest on a potential move for Harry Kane?

“The problem is that Tottenham may agree with Bayern on, let’s say, a ‘reasonable price’ which I say in air quotes, as we do not know what’s reasonable – so they might meet somewhere in the middle because then he would move abroad.”

“What I gather from Tottenham is if they were to sell him to a Premier League competitor – as I mean Tottenham also had a bad campaign but aren’t far away from United, right, and they seem themselves as wanting to challenge Newcastle, Man Utd and so on – so if they were to sell to United then they would have to basically pay a ‘Premier League tax’.”

“Tottenham may demand £100m from Bayern and maybe sell him for less, as that is what usually happens with add-on deals included, whereas they would probably demand £120m from United or something. I mean, yesterday, a colleague of mine said they would demand £150m or even more just because they don’t want to sell to United or any other Premier League side.”

“I mean the main issue is selling to a competitor – not really just because it is United, but also Tottenham and United are not really on best terms, in terms of the owners of both [clubs]. I don’t think you can put a claim on one particular ownership because both owners are quite the characters. I mean, I speak about the current United owners and United’s hierarchy, right, as it is not like they are without fault but quite the opposite actually, so their personalities clash.

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Who are United looking at after the Kim Min-jae deal collapsed?

“They don’t really have one right now, no definitive target, also because I think they are still waiting for some other moves that are happening as their are a couple of defenders now on the market. I mean Kim is one, Kounde is another and I am not saying they want Kounde but more in the sense of if he goes somewhere, then someone else is available. Like, Lucas Hernandez is going to Paris so then maybe something happens after that as a result, where does Pavard go? “

“So, there’s a lot of moving pieces with regards to defenders, and that’s why United are monitoring all these players (Diasi, Todibo, etc). I mean they have even monitored Robin Koch from Leeds United but they just want to see if he is an option. They’ll be saying ‘is he an option, or is he maybe a number 4 centre-half’ – something like that right, more of a back-up but still a competent back-up because you don’t want to sign just someone.”

“I think right now there are a lot of centre-backs that are on the move, or about to move probably, but they haven’t and what does that do to the rest of the market? Pau Torres is still kind of talked about and they are somewhat monitoring him or thinking about making a move for him, as he was linked to United last year – so that’s kind of the whole story, basically. It will be very interesting to see what happens when Hernandez moves to Paris and Kim finalises his move to Bayern, because I feel more pieces will fall into play one way or another.”

Have United made a move for Mickey van de Ven?

He is only a player being monitored, there’s not much more to that, because he’s one of the more interesting young defenders out of the Bundesliga so United are looking at him. Of course, I mean, look at his name – Ten Hag might be aware of what he is doing but it is more monitoring.”

“Also, it is looking in terms of a move next year, you know, waiting to see how he is doing during the next campaign and United, as well as other clubs, acting earlier with regards to contacting players. This comes as a lot of clubs have noticed now that if you just start contacting or getting in touch with agents in April, or something, then sometimes it might be too late to get a summer move, more of putting the feelers out rather than negotiating.”

“Another point to mention is that, I think, sometimes these links have something to do with stuff being leaked to the media from United or stuff that happens instead United’s facilities is leaked to the media. So, I get the feeling United are interested in a lot of players but so are other clubs also, except it’s not leaked in the same frequency.”

Is there any truth in Mohamed Simakan rumours?

“Yes, but he has a contract that extends past 2024 so Leipzig are not interested in selling – they are not interested in selling Gvardiol or Simakan right now. I mean Gvardiol is the other one right, who is touted on the market, he’s a physical monster so Kim and him are the physical specimens when it comes to centre-backs.”

Leipzig are a selling club but also they know that they hold all the cards right now so will look to either try to drive the prices up or maybe don’t sell this year and wait for next year…the more bidders you have, the higher price you get these days.”

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Are there any updates on Rasmus Højlund or Randal Kolo Muani?

“I mean both are kind of likely because Kolo Muani was linked to other clubs but that interest has cooled down so he could be available. Also, getting him would be easier than getting Victor Osimhen, for instance, from Napoli because they are crazy when it comes to prices and they just demand a price, there is no negotiating.”

“The huge price tag makes things so hard as opposed to Eintracht Frankfurt, in Kolo Muani’s case, who got him for free basically, or for a very small fee, so if they get a lot of money for him then it’s a win for them. So, yeah, let’s wait and see as both are more likely than Harry Kane, as both are on the market and you would be able to buy them if you can negotiate the right price.”

“The only thing is that Kolo Muani might not be the type of player Ten Hag prefers, but that’s more speculation on my part, because he has a bad first touch or it is inconsistent so I am not sure he would be the ‘dream player’ of Ten Hag. I am just guessing because Kolo Muani is a controversial topic, as he has this ability to break through defences, to beat defenders but he is also very inconsistent and his first touch combination play is not something he does very well, compared to what a Harry Kane would do very well in the same position.

“There aren’t many options on the market, so United are kind of forced to be interested in these top level strikers that are available. Kolo Muani’s price would be €70m upwards, as that’s what Frankfurt want, but in the end you negotiate something where it’s similar to the Jadon Sancho deal with Dortmund; in the end it wasn’t that high but there were add-ons and the base transfer fee wasn’t that high so you can sell it better to the fanbase.”

Frankfurt also know there is a market for Kolo Muani because he also played in that World Cup final, right, and he’s kind of an exciting player as I said inconsistent but exciting, so marketable and how many strikers are there on the market, at the highest level? I can see maybe five or something, right; Kane, Højlund, Kolo Muani, Ramos, Osimhen, maybe, Benzema has just moved and if Mbappe goes somewhere then he goes to Real Madrid.”

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Why do United take so long to finalise transfers?

“There is also the whole ownership question. I know some agents who are, kind of, like ‘Who will be in charge of United? How will the decision making happen? How will the boardroom look? Who will the decision makers be, other than Ten Hag?’ These are questions that are not answered.”

“The only thing I know from people who are closer to that deal is that the Glazers, like anything in business the whole family is involved, are not all in agreement about this whole thing. That makes things more difficult, right, that the Glazers are, internally, saying that they are not on the same page when it comes to how they think [the sale] will look. From what I have heard, it is a bit of a mess.”

Do the Glazers have a budget for this summer in mind?

“No, they don’t really have like a budget cap or something – it’s more about who do they want to sign, does it make sense and is the price reasonable? Other clubs do that sometimes, where they have budget ‘X, Y and Z’, but United are not like that.”

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How does Erik Ten Hag feel about this summer’s recruitment?

“Well, he’s unhappy about things not moving forward, basically, and also that he doesn’t know who are his players, especially key players in terms of can he sign ‘X’ or can he sign ‘Y’ and are they coming or not coming?

So, he’s not really happy about that, and that’s been for a while because everything is moving so slowly but he’s not like close to quitting or something like that, it is just more that he is not happy about it.

What does United’s recruitment structure look like?

“The problem is that they don’t, and haven’t for a while, had that one strong decision maker because most clubs have one or two people who are actually doing [the negotiating]. I mean, there may be five directors but there is usually one decision maker, plus the Head Coach, who are making the transfer decisions – but United’s not like that. The owners are involved more when it comes to money, heavily, and the board are also aware that the negotiators have to get back to the owners and the board so there’s so many people involved.”

However, other clubs have that one Sporting Director or Football Director or higher management position who is doing these negotiations and is a ‘closer’, like Paolo Maldini at Milan was a great ‘closer’ of the deals for the manager. But, yeah, there are two, at best, three people involved with most clubs – but United have more and that is why they are so slow.”

Internally, most involved never get on the same page or to an agreement on what they should do, that happened with the Jadon Sancho negotiations and the Antony negotiations as well as a few others also.”

Are John Murtough, Darren Fletcher and Matt Hargreaves the three negotiators?

“These are the three guys, yes, they are the main decision makers but they have to go back to the board or to the owners when it comes to big money deals, and they’ve had to in the past few years. United can’t just offer a club a sum of money for a player because they have to get a bid greenlighted by other directors or technical directors with more power.”

So, there is no power or freedom in negotiating like with a budget where they can then offer money without having to go back to the board or having meetings internally, so this is why other clubs are faster and more agile in negotiations than United. I mean, it might change in a year or so, we don’t know, we will see, but right now United are almost too big and there is no one powerful enough to decide for it.”

“You know, sometimes you actually want someone to be very powerful within these football clubs, I mean look at Bayern Münich; they got rid of Hasan Salihamidžić, who was the deal maker, and now Thomas Tuchel does more of the negotiations on his own. Tuchel will have someone with him who is more like the money part and who will take care of wages and salary structures because he is not a lawyer, but he does the convincing, has brief negotiations, talks to the players and agents so he is respected.”

Bayern have gone back, and a few other clubs have gone back, to the old Premier League model where Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger were basically management and coaches in one role.”

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I would like to thank Dr. Constantin Eckner for taking the time to do this exclusive interview. If you wish to follow the latest developments and breaking news from this incredible tier-one transfer journalist, then please follow him on Twitter at @cc_eckner.

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