Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag believes Chelsea’s struggles this season are a warning sign of how difficult life can be after a takeover.
As the Glazers continue to consider a full or partial sale of United, a process which has been rumbling on since November, Chelsea will visit Old Trafford on Thursday limping to the end of a hugely disappointing first campaign since a group headed by Todd Boehly bought the club last summer.
There has been no lack of funding as the London club have spent almost £600million in the last two transfer windows, but the investment is yet to pay off with one of the Premier League’s so-called ‘Big Six’ stuck down in 12th place, a top-half finish now beyond them.
Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s third manager this term following the early-season dismissal of Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter’s ill-fated seven-month spell at the helm, has taken only four points from nine games in interim charge.
Chelsea have been criticised for a scattergun approach in the market, at one point signing so many players they could not all fit in the changing room of their Cobham training ground, and Ten Hag said their experience showed money is not the answer if not spent wisely.
“In this moment a centralisation of good players, of the best managers, also the money is all here in the UK, that makes a great competition but also a tough and a hard competition,” he said.
“You have to do the right things, you can have money but you have to do it and spend it in a smart way and you need to have a strategy behind it, otherwise the money doesn’t work.”
United have hardly been stingy themselves in recent transfer windows. Ed Woodward, who spent nine years as executive vice-chairman before stepping down early last year, tore through £1billion in signings, but United only twice finished runners-up in the Premier League during that time.
Woodward is long gone, replaced by Richard Arnold in January 2022. Although United are yet to shift all of the surplus players that date from Woodward’s time, Ten Hag believes the club is now operating much more smartly – something that would need to continue if new ownership arrives.
“I think we are in a good direction but also we can also learn from this season,” he said.
“We have to evaluate that after the season, make the right conclusions for the future and that is what we will definitely do that after the season.”
United will be sure of a Champions League place with a match to spare if they take at least a point against Chelsea.
With the League Cup already in the trophy cabinet and the FA Cup final against Manchester City still to come, Ten Hag can point to progress in his first season but these are only markers on the road to where United want to be.
Since United were last top of the tree fresh challenges to the old order have emerged. Newcastle will be in the Champions League next season for the first time in 20 years, while Brighton have qualified for Europe for the first time in their history.
The notion of a ‘Big Six’ in the Premier League feels increasingly outdated.
“I think there are many more teams in the Premier League who are really strong,” Ten Hag added.
“Talking about Aston Villa, Brighton, Brentford, I think there are many more teams who are really strong and tough and it is not only those top six clubs.”
Asked if the top-four battle would be even harder next term, he said: “It could be, but there is a summer in between so in the summer a lot of things can happen. In this moment, we know the balance in the league but over the summer things can change.”