MADRID (Reuters) - Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea was facing an uncertain future on Tuesday after his expected move to Real Madrid was apparently scuppered when the paperwork did not arrive at the Spanish league on time.
As the clock ticked towards the midnight deadline on Monday, media reports said Real and United had reached a deal for de Gea to return to La Liga, with Real's Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas going the other way.
However, when the Spanish Primera Liga declared the transfer window shut, there was still no official confirmation and reports later said that although de Gea had signed his new contract, the relevant documents had not arrived in time.
Fifa rules state that players can be registered only during one of two annual transfer periods - the other is in January - with the exception being if their contract has expired before the end of a registration period.
Sports daily As quoted unidentified Spanish league sources as saying the paperwork had not been delivered until 28 minutes past midnight, while rival paper Marca reported that Real had proof the paperwork arrived at one minute before midnight and were still expecting the transfer to go through.
However, Cadena Ser radio said Real had decided not to pursue the deal as they knew they had no chance of success. Real, the Spanish league and Fifa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for United said the club did not comment on the transfer market.
According to Fifa rules, for a player to transfer to another country, their new club and his previous club have to submit certain information and documentation to the world governing body's so-called Transfer Matching System (TMS).
The TMS then generates an International Transfer Certificate (ITC) which permits the transfer of the player's registration from one country to another.
As things stand, de Gea, whose deal with United expires at the end of the season when he can leave for free, could find himself out in the cold, at least until the end of the year when the market opens again.
As the transfer saga rumbled on, United coach Louis van Gaal left the 24-year-old out of the squad for the Premier League club's opening games of the season, with Argentina international Sergio Romero playing instead.
Real want de Gea as a long-term replacement for his Spain teammate Iker Casillas, the former club captain who joined Porto in July.