LONDON - Wayne Rooney believes Manchester United can challenge for the Premier League title next season though the England captain admits that Louis van Gaal's squad will need strengthening if they are to climb up the table.
United yesterday had an opening £32 million (S$68 million) bid for Sergio Ramos rejected by Real Madrid but maintain hope of securing one of their prime targets.
The Red Devils want the defender to state publicly his intention to leave the Bernabeu while Ramos and the Spanish giants are also keen on a swift resolution to avert a potential fallout overshadowing Rafael Benitez's first games as the Real manager.
The Spain centre-half has already spelt out privately his wish to leave the Bernabeu and for United's interest to be taken seriously during talks with Real chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez.
But Ramos could release a statement on the matter. United hope that will materialise soon as they try to push through a deal and dispel any concerns that they are being used as a pawn in his bid to extract a new contract from Real.
Ramos is angry at attempts in the Spanish media to characterise him as a mercenary - reports said he is demanding a £3 million rise in his annual salary.
Meanwhile, United have yet to receive a formal bid from Real for David de Gea, who is likely to hold the key to any agreement.
The goalkeeper, however, looks Madrid-bound after a £2.75 million, six-bedroom house that he rents in Manchester was reported to have been put up for sale by its owner.
Just as Real believe United's £29 million valuation of de Gea is excessive for a player who is about to enter the final 12 months of his contract, so United are reluctant to meet the Spanish club's £45 million price tag for Ramos, a 29-year-old with no resale value.
United value Ramos at less than £40 million.
Van Gaal also wants to sign at least one midfielder. Reports in Germany yesterday said Bastian Schweinsteiger was moving closer to a £17.8 million move to United, with Bayern Munich hesitant to meet his new wage demands.
United are also in pole position to sign Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin.
After finishing seventh in 2013-14 under David Moyes, United managed a fourth-placed finish last season, and Rooney wants the club to challenge for the first time since winning their 20th title in 2012-13.
"We will go far next year and won't be far off challenging for the league," he said. "If you look at the first 10 to 11 games, we only had around 13 points, and if you look at where we finished, I think it shows we could have been up there with a better start...
"The most important thing is that as a squad, including the manager and myself, we believe we are close to challenging for the title and, with a couple of signings, we will have a good chance of doing that."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN