A slew of Manchester United players will be out of contract next summer, and the club’s time to make a decision is running out.
It was a summer of renewal at Old Trafford, a window in which five internationals with years of experience left for nothing, making room in the squad for a refresh and erasing millions from the wage bill.
The departures of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, and Edinson Cavani haven’t caused the club too many problems.
They were either peripheral or replaced last season, and it appears that this squad under Erik ten Hag is stronger and more united as a result of the changes.
But the squad is still a bloated one and there will be more departures this summer. Tom Heaton, Phil Jones, and Axel Tuanzebe are all out of contract in June 2023, and due to either age or lack of game time, they might see their futures elsewhere.
There are half-a-dozen more regular players who are also out of contract next summer, however, and while United have an option to extend them all by a year, they might be looking for more definitive decisions on them.
David de Gea, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw, Fred, Marcus Rashford, and Cristiano Ronaldo are all out of contract in June 2023 and the circumstances around a decision are different for every player.
But if no action is taken all six of them can talk to foreign clubs about a move from January 1, so the clock is already ticking.
One of the biggest issues with the Spaniard is De Gea’s wage packet, which at around £375,000 a week makes him the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world.
The 31-year-old has recovered well from a difficult afternoon in the 4-0 defeat at Brentford but he still has questions to answer around how he fits in under Ten Hag.
United are unlikely to want to renew on identical terms and they have Dean Henderson coming back from a season-long loan at Nottingham Forest next summer. At that point, a decision will need to be made on whether Henderson is No. 1 or if the club is finally cashing on.
It might not be disastrous for United to lose De Gea on a free, given his wages, but the most sensible option here might be to take the extra year.
The right-back’s contract is the one signed when joining the club in 2018 and in his first few months Jose Mourinho described him as United’s first-choice in that position for a decade.
It’s taken a while for that prophecy to look accurate, but this season Dalot has firmly established him on Ten Hag’s side, ousting Aaron Wan-Bissaka and looking at home in this system.
At 23 he certainly looks to have a future at the club, either as a first-choice or as a high-caliber squad player. There is no reason for United not to try and sign Dalot up to another long-term contract, a claim which looked unlikely when he spent the 2020/21 season on loan at AC Milan.
If Dalot has prospered as a full-back under Ten Hag, the opposite is true of Shaw, who looks to have lost his place to Tyrell Malacia.
Shaw is in his ninth season at Old Trafford but in only one of those campaigns has he been truly excellent and in only one has he surpassed 30 league appearances.
If Malacia is the future for United at left-back, there is a question to be asked over whether Shaw is now a back-up and whether that is a role he would be happy to play.
The 27-year-old is still in the international picture and might feel he needs more regular game time to maintain his England chances. Taking the option and then considering a sale this summer might be a possibility.
Fred was one of the best players last season, a hollow claim given the standard of United’s performances, but it certainly felt like the Brazilian had established himself in the side.
But in his fifth season after his £52million arrival, he appears to have gone backward this term. He has lost his place in the Premier League XI and was poor when playing in a more advanced role against Real Sociedad last week.
United won’t want to lose a 29-year-old Brazilian international midfielder for nothing, so they will almost certainly look to extend the contract of someone who is at least a versatile option in the center of the pitch. But his standing has fallen so far this season.
There was more speculation about Rashford’s future this summer and his United career had looked like it was fizzling out recently, with a change of scenery a distinct possibility.
The academy graduate looks to be getting back to his best under Ten Hag, however, and three goals this season is a positive return.
It’s inconceivable United don’t look to get him to sign a new contract now and with rumors of Paris St-Germain’s interest in persisting, they will almost certainly want a new deal signed by January, rather than having to take the option as a stop-gap measure.
It came as a surprise in pre-season when Ten Hag floated the idea of taking the one-year option in Ronaldo’s contract and now that idea looks completely unfeasible.
The forward started the humbling at Brentford but has then been a substitute for four successive Premier League games. He was back in the side against Real Sociedad but offered little.
Ronaldo has looked like a 37-year-old striker so far this season and he will turn 38 in February. It’s a dangerous game to write him off, even at this late stage of his career, but he doesn’t look attuned to what Ten Hag wants from a forward.
He wanted out himself in the summer, looking for a return to the Champions League, and while his time at Old Trafford will almost certainly come to an end next year, it’s not entirely out of the question he looks to move again in January, especially if he remains out of the team.