The failed pursuit of De Jong ultimately led to the signing of Casemiro, but the club continue to look to other options in order to reshape the team over the medium-term.
United were strongly interested in Bellingham when he initially left Birmingham City for Borussia Dortmund in 2020, and the 19-year-old has evolved into one of Europe’s most sought-after players.
Bellingham almost has a pick of clubs. United and Liverpool are the most interested English teams, albeit with Manchester City monitoring developments, and Real Madrid the most prominent competitor from abroad.
The Bellingham camp are themselves monitoring what happens with all their suitors, especially since both United and Liverpool are at a crossroads.
Anfield would have been the player’s greatly preferred destination a year ago, but there are now questions over whether Jurgen Klopp can create a second great cycle, while United attempt to correct their course after almost a decade of disfunction.
The belief within the English clubs is that Bellingham’s ultimate decision will come down to performance over the next season. The feeling in Germany is different, though, with Real Madrid seen as favourites.
All of the clubs naturally have alternatives, which is where United’s interest in De Jong remains important.
The Dutch midfielder opted to stay at Camp Nou in the summer but it has only seen his career stagnate as he still can’t get a regular place in midfield.
Barca coach Xavi Hernandez spoke this week about using him in central defence more, and there is a sense that could start to influence the player’s thinking again.
Given that United have a number of areas they need to address over the next two windows, including centre-forward, the likelihood is that they will not spend so much on two midfield players.
It may bring a straight decision on whether to move for De Jong in the January window, or wait. It could also come down to whether they lean towards the medium- or long-term.
While Erik ten Hag still sees De Jong as the ideal midfielder for his system, and virtually irreplaceable, Bellingham would essentially secure the position for the next decade and is viewed as “a potential generational talent”.
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