INEOS will inherit total control of football operations at Manchester United once the Premier League has ratified Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s £1.3billion deal for a 29 per cent stake this month. And the 71-year-old tycoon has reportedly repeated his intention to be “ruthless” during an impending overhaul on and off the pitch.
Significant change is on the horizon – be that in the dugout, amongst the playing squad, in the club’s hierarchy and at Old Trafford and United’s Carrington training complex.
Erik ten Hag has overseen a squad makeover in just two summers as Red Devils manager, and INEOS are expected to fund another busy period of spending ahead of the 2024/25 campaign.
Multiple high-profile names are set to leave. Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial are out of contract in June, while Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are among those entering the final year of their current deals.
Left-back isn’t expected to be a position United look to address, with Luke Shaw one of Europe’s best when fit and Tyrell Malacia signed by Ten Hag in 2022 to act as his competition.
But maybe it should be. Shaw could face another spell on the sidelines after withdrawing from Sunday’s 2-1 win against Aston Villa at half-time.
And as good as the 28-year-old is when he’s healthy, there is an unsettling sense of unreliability about his availability that won’t do at any club challenging for the highest honours.
Shaw’s latest injury concern may not be serious. After the huge victory at Villa Park, Ten Hag confirmed he was replaced by Victor Lindelof as a precaution.
“[Shaw came off as a] precaution. He had some complaints, and we can’t take any risks with him because he’s had many injuries in the past,” Ten Hag told Sky Sports.
“We’ll have to see how it goes in the next few days. It’s not an advantage to lose him. Everyone knows my philosophy to have left-footers at left centre-back and left-back.
“Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw are both left-footed, and we also haven’t had Tyrell Malacia for the whole season.
“So for the whole time, we have had to make compromises, and it is not to our advantage. But today, we managed it, and hopefully, it’s not too bad with Luke.”
But if he is to miss another string of games, it would leave Ten Hag with no left-sided players and Diogo Dalot as his only available full-back.
Shaw showcased exactly what United had been missing during his most recent spell on the sidelines in his four appearances since returning in January.
It’s no coincidence that the Red Devils have enjoyed their best period of the season with a settled team, winning six of their last eight games and four in a row.
That involved Lisandro Martinez’s brief return before being ruled out for a further six to eight weeks, as well as Shaw and Casemiro’s welcome comebacks.
But fresh concerns over Shaw suggest that privilege may be ripped from Ten Hag again. If that’s the case, Ratcliffe needs to get “ruthless” and act.
Such a decision would likely come with reluctance, considering Ratcliffe, a lifelong United fan, publicly slammed Jose Mourinho’s treatment of the No. 23 in 2018.
Even if the decision doesn’t involve selling Shaw, United must have a left-back in place who is capable of scarcely missing important games if they want to reach Ratcliffe and INEOS’ primary goal.