MANCHESTER (AFP) - Tying down David de Gea on a long-term deal is a top priority for Jose Mourinho, as he juggles the urgent need to turn around Manchester United's fortunes with longer-term aims.
The English football club have completed the formality of activating a contract extension for the Spaniard, who joined them in 2011 and has won the United fans' player of the year award in four of the past five seasons.
He will be in the side that Mourinho takes to struggling Southampton in the Premier League this weekend (Dec 1) after dazzling display in the Champions League against Young Boys.
United's nervy 1-0 win against the Swiss side sealed a placed in the knockout phase - thanks partly to a wonder save from de Gea - but they are seven points behind fourth-placed Chelsea in the league and in real danger of not qualifying for next season's Champions League.
For all of United's well-publicised troubles with high-profile stars such as Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku, the form of de Gea has been magnificent for the club.
That has seen reports resurface that he could be set for a move away from Old Trafford, with Juventus emerging as rumoured suitors for the 28-year-old's services.
"He's a world-class player, he's the best goalkeeper in the world and if our ambitions are to be a big club, to be a winning club, you need the best goalkeeper in the world and you need also some other players who are the best in the world," said Mourinho.
"We have the best goalkeeper in the world and I know he wants to stay, I know his agent is happy to do what the player wants and I also know the board want him to stay and they are working on that so hopefully sooner or later they reach a conclusion."
The Spaniard's contract extension will keep him at the club until 2020 but it is the prospect of convincing de Gea, whose agent is Mourinho's own representative Jorge Mendes, to agree to a longer-term deal that is proving problematic.
De Gea, who is reportedly on a contract worth £200,000 (S$350,400) a week, is aware that Sanchez agreed to a deal worth well more than double that amount when he signed on a free transfer from Arsenal at the start of the year.
And United's current indifferent form, and broader underlying problems, will hardly have helped convince the Spanish international to pledge the peak years of his career to the club.
Strangely, his club form has been in contrast to his troubles with Spain's national team.
After being widely criticised in his homeland for some uncharacteristically sloppy performances during the 2018 World Cup Finals, de Gea again found himself on the receiving end of some negative coverage following the recent 3-2 defeat in Croatia.
But United supporters know the debt they owe to their No. 1 goalkeeper during a difficult season and, should he pursue a lucrative transfer abroad next summer, it is hard to imagine many begrudging him a move.
As he works out how he can persuade de Gea to stay in the long term, Mourinho must decide what to do with his three under-achieving superstars against Southampton, managed by former United favourite Mark Hughes.
Pogba and Lukaku were relegated to the bench for the Young Boys win and Sanchez left out of the squad completely, while defender Victor Lindelof, who has a "muscle problem", is a long-term injury absentee.