Scott Saunders: Manchester United ‘need players that are capable of carrying that philosophy out’ if Ajax playstyle is to be implemented

Earlier this month, I sat down with 90min’s Scott Saunders, of 90mins to discuss INEOS’ pursuit of Newcastle United’s Dan Ashworth and what this could all mean for Erik ten Hag as the summer transfer window approaches.

Dan Ashworth ‘sees himself as the centre of the wheel’

Dan Ashworth is the name that seemingly finds a way into every conversation involving Manchester United at the moment, having been identified by INEOS as the leading candidate for the Sporting Director role. Scott Saunders explained that Ashworth ‘has a good history of working in England, so it’s well documented that he’s worked at West Brom recently – but where he really started pulling up trees was with the FA.’

‘We see the England teams now, and the profile of player that they create and, obviously, it’s not all him but he’s come in there and he’s had some ideas of how to bring the FA setup up to speed. Gary Neville was speaking about it on one of his podcasts the other day about how he [Ashworth] came in and changed a bunch of things that even he [Neville] and Roy Hodgson, at the time, were a little unsure about.’

Embed from Getty Images

‘Ashworth has a great history of working with the FA, then took a step to Brighton, which was maybe a backwards step at the time… perhaps. You could say both his jobs, at Brighton and Newcastle, weren’t complete but you could see, especially the way Brighton are now – and again, Ashworth isn’t the only person to have an involvement in this – but I think he sees himself at the centre of a wheel. I think this is what he’s referred to as himself, or something along those lines, as the centre of a wheel that he can build the structure around him.’

‘I think if you ask around, there’s not many better than him out there, at the moment.’

Compensation discussions are ‘getting a bit silly’

Manchester United will have to pay Newcastle United a hefty compensation fee if they were to prise Ashworth away from his current role on Tyneside, with the figure expected to be in the range of £20m. Saunders expressed that a compromise could be reached by the two clubs, even though Newcastle ‘don’t seem too happy’ about the move.

‘I think these figures being floated around of £20m compensation and Martin Samuel saying Newcastle should charge them [United] £60m, I mean it’s getting a bit silly really but the point stands.’

‘I’m not saying Newcastle shouldn’t ask for a healthy compensation sum – they’ve got their own concerns to worry about with PSR. [Manchester] United should negotiate, as best they can, to get a fair price and I think they’ll end up meeting in the middle somewhere. Ideally, United will want Ashworth in for the summer window. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but I don’t see a reason why not.’

old Embed from Getty Images

‘These things can drag out, but I think they’ll get to a point where both parties are happy and [accept that] this is going to happen anyway at some point, regardless of whether the gardening leave is seen out or not. So, it just makes sense to me for them to agree on a fee.’

‘This way, you make sure he comes to United and does the role you want him to do, in the time you want him to do it. So, in my opinion, it is worth paying that extra bit of money to make sure it happens because the sooner you can set up the structure you want above the manager, the sooner it will come into effect, the sooner you’ll start making better decisions and the sooner you’ll stop spending way more money on players than you should be spending.’

Erik ten Hag ‘can’t play the Ajax way at United’ because of personnel

Question marks have surrounded Erik ten Hag’s tenure at Old Trafford for many months now, with the Dutchman struggling to find consistency at times. Saunders believes he deserves another year to prove himself in the Premier League, despite the Dutchman publicly saying ‘he can’t play the Ajax way at United.’

‘I honestly think that’s down to the personnel. I’ll put it this way: José Mourinho said Rio Ferdinand went to interview him, and José Mourinho said one of the problems that he had in one of his transfer windows wasn’t the players he wanted to bring in, it was the players he wanted to sell or get rid of.’

‘There are probably still players in that squad now that José Mourinho wanted to get rid of, so that for me is a problem. If you’re trying to build a philosophy, you need players that are capable of carrying that philosophy out, and you can look at the signings that Ten Hag has made – but how many of them really, I think he’s made sixteen signings, how many of them are long term players that will be at the club in, let’s say, the next five years?’

Embed from Getty Images

‘I think we see what Ten Hag wants United to do, just in small patches, and I think the players don’t have the energy levels to sustain the type of intensity he wants to play with. When the intensity falls apart, everything unravels and that’s why we see them concede so many shots and so much space. Not only that, there’s the technical proficiency on the ball as well.’

‘Kobbie Mainoo has come in and we’re looking at him and thinking “Oh my God, this kid’s amazing!” and, of course he is, but he’s doing stuff a modern midfielder should be doing but he’s eighteen. You put him next to Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes, and all Bruno wants to do it is spread the ball around everywhere and Casemiro is getting bypassed so, to me, it’s a profiling thing.’

FromTheSpot would like to thank Scott Saunders for agreeing to this this interview. If you want to keep up to date with his pieces for 90mins, his breaking news releases or his overall balanced opinion on developing football stories then you can catch him on X at @_scottsaunders or at