Erik ten Hag can be cast as Manchester United’s Donald Rumsfeld as he arrives in the US for the club’s summer tour. If the former US defence secretary’s identification of “known knowns” relates for the manager to his current squad, more critical is grappling with the “known unknowns” of who could still be signed and how the “unknown unknowns” caused by United’s stalled sale could affect his 2023-24 project.

For the future of the club to remain uncertain because of the Glazers’ procrastination is the direst possible scenario for Ten Hag. If continuity is the base requirement managers crave for team-building, then instability is the great fear, making United’s state of limbo eight months into a process billed as being resolved by the end of March (the end of fiscal quarter one) a migraine-like headache he hardly deserves.

As Ten Hag plots for next season in New Jersey, San Diego, Houston and Las Vegas – a blur of four matches in 11 days across three time zones against Arsenal, Wrexham, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund – he has no clue whether his paymasters will change and how this could affect his attempt to engineer success. Yet the Dutchman has to somehow prevent this from having a pervasive effect.

It may already be doing so. Ten Hag is operating in an environment where staff wonder whether they will have a job at the end of the American family’s tomorrow-never-comes vending process, and who have been told zero throughout.

It does not make for a positive, vibrant workplace. On the trip around the US there will be approximately 200 employees whose roles could be in jeopardy – from the football director, John Murtough (if he makes the trip), to Ten Hag’s media team, those in charge of day-to-day logistics, the catering staff and the manager himself.

Because although Ten Hag is not an obvious candidate for removal – the Dutchman has been a roaring success – football can be a wild west as Thomas Tuchel will testify after his sacking by the new Chelsea ownership four months into its proprietorship, and 18 after winning the club the Champions League.

Harry Kane of Tottenham

Harry Kane in a friendly in Australia this month. United have abandoned any idea of signing him this summer. Photograph: Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images

Depending on your take Ten Hag either overachieved or did what was required last season in breaking a six-year trophy drought (claiming the Carabao Cup), losing another final (FA Cup) and taking United back into the Champions League via a third-place finish.

The view here is that he overachieved and that should Ten Hag replicate the silverware and top-four finish next season this, again, is success. For though United “should” be competing for the title and to add a third Champions League to the honours board, each requires a miracle of management. Ten Hag is good, sure – but this good?

Here we arrive at the quaint case of the abandoned chase for his summer transfer priority, Harry Kane, and the £60m spend on Mason Mount. Quaint because the Tottenham and England captain is the goal-plunderer supreme whose addition, Ten Hag informed Murtough, would offer the best hope of the step change required to challenge Manchester City’s domination.

The logic of not wanting a months-long pursuit of Kane that was always fruitless owing to the unwillingness of the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, to sell and would replicate the failed quest last year to sign Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong is understandable. But might this have been identified and abandoned far earlier to save time, and Ten Hag’s frustration?

The buying of Mount compounds all of this because an attacking midfielder/wide operator is not a priority when the manager has Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho, Antony, Christian Eriken and Jadon Sancho.

Denmark forward Rasmus Højlund celebrates after scoring a goal in Euro 24 qualifying

Denmark and Atalanta forward Rasmus Højlund is on Manchester United’s radar. Photograph: Jure Makovec/AFP/Getty Images

Next on the list after Kane is Rasmus Højlund, Atalanta’s 20-year-old centre-forward who has a single season of Serie A experience, scoring nine goals in 32 appearances, and six goals in six Denmark appearances. Unlike Kane, he is young and unproven in the Premier League, yet Atalanta are demanding about £85m – an eye-watering sum to gamble on what is the definite known unknown of how Højlund would fare.

Ten Hag’s bombing out of David de Gea and agreeing a deal to sign Internazionale’s André Onana as the new first-choice goalkeeper for about £47m complicate any move for Højlund. It means the sale of fringe squad members such as Harry Maguire, Anthony Elanga, Fred, Scott McTominay (possibly), Donny van de Beek, and Alex Telles is required. Paris Saint-Germain entering the race for Højlund is one more obstacle.

This is a tangle Ten Hag has to unravel and is reminiscent of every close season for every post-Sir Alex Ferguson manager. It has become a deja vu experience that is as tired as the Glazers’ past decade of ownership: a quasi-absent tenure which sets Champions League qualification as the bar for success.

For optimism Ten Hag can look inwards, at the current group, as he prepares to send out a first stateside XI, against Arsenal on 22 July at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. Garnacho, just 19 and after last season’s breakthrough campaign, could, in the upcoming season, be a consistently turbo-paced defence-breaker from out wide; another X-factor footballer alongside Fernandes, Casemiro, Lisandro Martínez and Rashford. Onana, too, has the character and bravery to transform Ten Hag’s wish to create attacks from the back – this is the hope, anyway.

And, in Kobbie Mainoo, Ten Hag has an 18-year-old Stockport-born midfielder whose style is in the Casemiro mould and who may be next season’s Garnacho: a “bonus” factor in his matchday plans.

Another unknown, though, is the future of Mason Greenwood. If he stays this would, presumably, solve Ten Hag’s No 9 issue, but the 21-year-old’s situation is complex after he was arrested in January 2022 and charged the following October with attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He denied the charges, which were dropped in February, when the club launched an investigation into his conduct.

After Arsenal, United face Wrexham on 25 July at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium with a junior side, before the next day a senior team take on Real in Houston at NRG Stadium. Ten Hag will hope that before United fly home from Las Vegas after the final game, against Dortmund on 31 July at Allegiant Stadium, he will have secured an alpha striker and that, just maybe, there will finally be clarity over who owns the club.

At this juncture, though, he has no way of knowing whether he will know and what else he does not yet know he does not know. Complicated.