Man United 'turned down De Jong and De Ligt' after scout recommendation
'Ultimately we could have been so much better if people had listened.'
In 2019, as Erik ten Hag's exciting young Ajax side saw off Real Madrid and then Juventus to reach a Champions League semifinal, it was already clear that Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt - two of their star performers - were destined to become big names in world football.
De Jong had already agreed a deal to join Barcelona at the end of the season; De Ligt, a commanding central defender despite still being a teenager, was being linked with the rest of Europe's wealthiest clubs and would eventually join Juventus.
Manchester United had reportedly been interested in both players without ever appearing to be a realistic destination for either of them.
United turned down De Jong and De Ligt years before Ajax stardom
According to their former head of youth recruitment, however, they had already missed out on the chance to sign the pair years earlier.
Derek Langley spent 16 years at United, leaving in 2016 shortly after delivering a frank assessment of the club's approach to recruitment at youth level to then-executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward.
Prior to that, he claimed he and his team had identified both De Ligt and De Jong as players United should have signed - long before they caught the eye with their impressive displays in the Champions League. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News in 2018, Langley said United had not listened to his advice.
"Players that they turned down? Matthijs de Ligt," he said. "We had God knows how many reports on Matthijs de Ligt. Frenkie de Jong and all these players now are sort of around Europe."
Langley also identified Dayot Upamecano as a potential acquisition for the club. The French defender later signed for RB Leipzig before moving to Bayern Munich in 2021.
Langley left United after expressing concerns about youth recruitment
Having missed out on these players, Langley says he later expressed his concerns about United's recruitment at youth level to Woodward. Within months, he was let go from his position.
"This was one of the reasons why I had a meeting with Ed Woodward and I told him that I wasn't convinced with the competency of certain people at the club.
"I told Ed Woodward quite straight, 'If you think I'm going to sit here and just tell you what you want to hear, I'm not that man because I'm going to tell you exactly how I see it'.
"I think it was possibly part of my downfall as to why seven months down the line I was removed because I wouldn't toe the line in relation to telling them exactly what I thought.
"It's one of those things in football - you come to accept it. Manchester United thanked me for the time I spent there and the players I'd taken in, but ultimately we could have been so much better if people had listened."
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