LONDON • Manchester United are working on separate deals for Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gareth Bale as the club seek to elevate a team that crashed out of the Champions League on Tuesday.
After two years spent overhauling the squad that Alex Ferguson left behind, United will narrow their focus next summer by trying to sign a couple of elite players.
United's hierarchy remain wedded to manager Louis van Gaal for now.
Club and manager share the view that the team lack stardust despite the Dutchman having spent over £250 million (S$533.2 million) on 13 players in 18 months at Old Trafford. And they want to add serial match winners who will help to strengthen their prospects of winning silverware.
With the exception of Angel di Maria, who signed from Real for a British record fee of £59.7 million last year but was sold to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) 12 months later, United have failed to add a marquee name in five transfer windows since Ferguson left.
As well as their interest in Ronaldo, Neymar and Bale - United have put groundwork in on all three in the hope of landing one - they are continuing to monitor developments with Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.
On several levels, though, striking a deal for a Ronaldo or Bale, of Real Madrid, or Neymar at Barcelona, is fraught with complications.
This includes a growing belief at Old Trafford that the biggest names would prefer to play in a division, such as La Liga in Spain, where the prospect of scoring 40-plus goals in a season is significantly higher than in England's more intense, competitive top flight.
With it, their prospects of winning the Ballon d'Or are improved.
Ronaldo was the first and only Premier League player to win the World Player of the Year award, with United in 2008.
"They know if they play in La Liga, they can score 40 or more goals, but in the Premier League, you're probably looking at 20 to 25," a senior United source said.
Neymar's father, however, has indicated that his son "will have to leave Spain" if he continues to have problems with the country's authorities after being accused of not paying millions of pounds in taxes between 2011 and 2013.
But will he swop the Nou Camp for Old Trafford, having already rejected a United offer last summer?
According to some Spanish media reports, the 23-year-old Brazil captain is in talks with Barcelona over an extension to his contract, which expires in June 2018 and contains an apparent £140 million release clause that the European champions want to increase.
Some United supporters have already started to feel that their club have too often been used as a pawn by players to boost their earnings elsewhere. The circus surrounding Sergio Ramos - who, after much talk, signed a new deal with Real in August - was a case in point.
Extracting Bale, at this stage, from Real, who view him as a central piece in their plan, seems even more remote.
Ronaldo may be marginally easier to get, although the Portugal forward - who will enter the final two years of his contract in the summer and is also coveted by PSG - moved to quash talk of a return to United in the wake of Real's 8-0 Champions League victory against Malmo on Tuesday.
THE TIMES, LONDON