LONDON • Louis van Gaal is happier but is still not happy.
Manchester United may no longer be "broken" and "unbalanced", words he used to describe the football squad he inherited.
Yet, despite spending £230 million (S$488 million) in 12 months trying to reinvigorate a team he claims had been allowed to grow old and stale, the Dutchman is adamant that he will not consider it "his United" until he signs the creative superstar he craves.
From his seat in a ballroom at the Fairmont hotel in San Jose, California, where United have been staying on the second leg of their pre-season tour of the United States, van Gaal marvels at Barcelona's gilded attack of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
He gushes about Eden Hazard at Chelsea. He looks enviously at Sergio Aguero of Manchester City. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, he would bring the Real Madrid forward back to Old Trafford in a heartbeat if he did not believe a deal was unachievable. "Yeah, of course," van Gaal said when asked if he would love to see Ronaldo at United again.
THE REALITY OF DEEP POCKETS
He may come but it is not possible. Why not? Because you have the club (Real), you have Ronaldo and then you have Manchester United and how much Manchester United want to spend.
LOUIS VAN GAAL on signing Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo
SEEKING STELLAR QUALITY
You cannot expect to get from (Ashley) Young what you get from Hazard. Young had a fantastic season but he is not a Neymar and we have to compete with that kind of class.
VAN GAAL on adding another star name to his team
"He may come (laughs) but it is not possible. Why not? Because you have the club (Real), you have Ronaldo and then you have Manchester United and how much Manchester United want to spend."
Van Gaal might have stewed longer over United's 0-1 loss away to Chelsea in April, when his team enjoyed 80 per cent possession and were, in his eyes, close to playing the "perfect match", were it not for the realisation that they were undone by a moment of brilliance.
That came from a type of player whom they do not have but covet in their quest to challenge again.
"They (Chelsea) have Hazard, he can always make goals, he can always make an action and decide a goal," he explained. "Manchester City have Aguero, it's the same type. Barcelona has Messi, Neymar and Suarez. We as Manchester United have to compete with these clubs. So, we have to look also for those kinds of players.
"It's not my Manchester United. Why? Because we have to look for more balance and more creativity.
"Chelsea have Hazard, Willian and Oscar. There is a lot of creativity there and you need that because you have to disorganise (teams that park) the bus.
"We can use much more creativity. You cannot expect to get from (Ashley) Young what you get from Hazard. Young had a fantastic season but he is not a Neymar and we have to compete with that kind of class. I want more players but it is not always possible."
While such talk will fuel rumours of another move for Gareth Bale, of Real, it would also reaffirm Arsene Wenger's view that United are trying to buy their way back to success. But van Gaal will not be drawn on the Arsenal manager's remarks.
When it was put to van Gaal that he has also blooded a lot of young players, he replied: "You can write that but I don't want to respond."
The United manager, though, wanted to make it clear that he was forced to sign Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Romero on Sunday because of uncertainty surrounding David de Gea's future at United.
The Dutchman believes the Spain goalkeeper could still leave for Real but United would sanction his sale only if the 10-time European champions included defender Sergio Ramos in any deal. Van Gaal effected his contingency plan by signing Romero on a free transfer after the Argentina No. 1, who worked under the Dutchman at AZ Alkmaar, left Sampdoria at the end of last season.
The 28-year-old has signed a three-year contract and already joined his new team in the US.
"I think that in our circumstances, we have to prepare our season and I think Sergio Romero can fulfil that because you have to handle very quickly when it may happen with David de Gea," van Gaal said.
"He is a very good choice... he can fulfil what we are expecting."
Romero becomes van Gaal's fifth signing of the summer after Memphis Depay (£25 million from PSV Eindhoven), Matteo Darmian (£12.9 million from Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger (£14 million from Bayern Munich) and Morgan Schneiderlin (£24 million from Southampton). THE TIMES, LONDON