MANCHESTER UNITED were not even in the running to sign Ajax superstar Frenkie de Jong, exposing how far their once famed scouting network has fallen.
The gulf in class between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side and Europe's elite was laid bare in their Champions League exit to Barcelona.
Getty – Contributor3 Man Utd were not even in the running to sign Frenkie de Jong
But the foundations underpinning the club have been rocked by Ajax's success.
The Dutch side have a young XI – with Matthijs De Ligt being captain at 19 – put together through the sharp eye of Marc Overmars, who Arsenal fans are begging to have back at the club.
Midfielder De Jong, 21, will join Barcelona this summer in a £65million deal after being bought by Ajax for just £1 three years ago.
Why were Man Utd not even in the running to sign De Jong? Especially given the need to replace ageing stars such as Nemanja Matic.
The situation is embarrassing for executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, given United's financial reserves and clout in the transfer market, not to mention the size of their scouting network, which has trebled in size over the past five years.
As well as expensive flops such as £52m Fred – made to look completely ordinary by Barca – the failure to fight for De Jong shows United's problems need addressing urgently.
That can be shown as well in their net spend in the market compared to Ajax's since they met in the 2017 Europa League final.
United have amassed a staggering £175million net spend since 2017 after signing the likes of Romelu Lukaku (£75m) and Fred.
Ajax, on the other hand, are £83m in PROFIT having raked in huge fees from Davinson Sanchez (£42m), Davy Klaassen (23.6m) and Barcelona-bound De Jong (£65m).
That is an eye-watering £258M difference in net spend between the 2017 finalists.
Solskjaer has admitted a huge rebuilding job is on his hands. And it must be remembered he was given the job partly because he trusts youth.
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But to give youth a chance you need the quality there in the first place.
United's capture of Cristiano Ronaldo at the age of 18 is the stuff of legend.
But Ajax's success with such a young side – Arsenal target David Neres is also just 21 – shows the process of snapping up youngsters needs to start earlier and earlier, with United falling behind their rivals.
The Sun3 Not including free transfers or swap deals
Getty Images – Getty3 Woodward knows United's recruitment process needs work