Gary Neville has admitted he is nervous about Manchester United’s upcoming season with two “unknowns” in their squad.
Erik ten Hag had a decent first campaign in charge of Man Utd, despite a nervy start, picking up the EFL Cup as well as securing a return to the Champions League via a top four finish. The Red Devils also reached the FA Cup final but were beaten by rivals Manchester City, who were en route to their Treble.
Now preparing for his second season at Old Trafford, Ten Hag has overseen some changes in the squad with Harry Maguire stripped of the captaincy, replaced by Bruno Fernandes with the English centre-back currently being linked with a move to West Ham United. Should Maguire be sold, it wouldn’t be the first major departure of the summer for Man Utd who have already said goodbye to David de Gea.
The Spaniard had a 12-year stay at Man Utd and although it was a shaky start, De Gea would go onto become one of the best goalkeepers in Premier League history, keeping 147 clean sheets in 415 games for the Red Devils. De Gea also won two Golden Gloves, for the most clean sheets in a single season, including in 2022/23 but the mistakes were once again creeping into his game and Man Utd decided that enough was enough.
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Not renewing De Gea’s contract, Man Utd instead looked to the transfer market for their new No.1, also opting against giving Dean Henderson the push. After being linked with a few names, Man Utd eventually settled on Andre Onana, signed for £44.1m from Inter Milan.
Onana played under Ten Hag at Ajax and made his name in European football at the Dutch club before moving to Inter Milan last summer. In his one season at the San Siro, Onana was integral as Inter reached the Champions League final, keeping eight clean sheets and making 47 saves, both highs for the competition. However, Onana has already been placed under a microscope from opposition fans who took joy from the Cameroon international being lobbed from long-range in a recent friendly.
And it’s that kind of scrutiny that makes being Man Utd goalkeeper one of the toughest roles in the Premier League, according to former Red Devils defender Neville.
“I do think Man United needed to change goalkeepers. The [FA Cup] final was the final straw,” he said.
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“It’d gotten to the point where United fans were a little bit disingenuous toward De Gea. It was a bad ending in terms of what he did for the club. But I think they had to do it in terms of being hard, I think they’d committed too early (to new contract?). He’d done well during the early stage of the season to an extent but the cup final was just like, ‘Hang on a minute. That can’t go in your net’.
“And it had happened too many times, so I think the distribution along with the fact there were shots starting to go in that really shouldn’t have gone in [meant] they had to make that call. It was a harsh one, but they had to do it to him.”
“I’ve said it before, Manchester United goalkeeper is the toughest position in Premier League football. Some people will disagree with me and think it’s bias, but you come under more scrutiny than any player in English football I think if you’re the United goalkeeper.”
Onana wasn’t the only new arrival at Old Trafford this summer with Jonny Evans, Mason Mount and Rasmus Hojlund also coming in, the latter for £64m after his breakthrough campaign at Atalanta. And Neville has admitted he is a bit nervous given the changes Man Utd have undergone in two key positions.
He added: “I wish [Onana] all the best, because people will get onto him. Every media organisation, every pundit, every fan from every other club, if he makes a mistake or two. And the lad at the other end of the pitch, Hojllund, United centre-forward — I think they’re the two positions that come under the most scrutiny and they’re the two that have to settle in.”
“The reason I’m a bit nervous about United’s season is you’ve got these two unknowns at either end of the pitch in focal positions that really have to hit it off in order for United to be better than last season.”