LONDON • Ed Woodward admits that the summer transfer window will be an "important opportunity" for Manchester United to bolster their squad with significant investment after a troubled season.
United are languishing in eighth place in the Premier League, 38 points behind leaders Liverpool (73) and six behind fourth-placed Chelsea (41), as they struggle to secure a Champions League spot.
Both United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Woodward have been under fire from frustrated fans, with some throwing flares and vandalising the latter's house recently.
But Woodward points to the signing of Portugal playmaker Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon during the January transfer window as proof United can still attract quality players despite failing to win the Premier League since 2013.
"The signing of Bruno Fernandes and return of key players from injury will be a boost to Ole and the squad as we head into the second half of the season," he said in introductory remarks made at a recent fans' forum.
"We remain in contention in the Europa League and the FA Cup, as well as for Champions League qualification, so there is still lots to play for.
"However, as a club and a board, we do recognise that we are not yet where we want to be.
"It is the overwhelming priority of everyone at the club to get us back to regularly challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles."
He has backed Solskjaer for the rebuilding job, insisting that United have a "clear plan" for the Norwegian, 46, to stay at the wheel. They have been linked with former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino since his sacking in November.
The emergence of Mason Greenwood, 18, and Brandon Williams, 19, has offered hope for the future and United's blueprint is to blend promising talents with established stars. With that in mind, he hopes the next transfer window will provide an opportunity to significantly improve the squad.
"Our focus is on fusing graduates from our academy with high-quality acquisitions," he said. "As part of the rebuild we see this coming summer as an important opportunity.
TITLES THE AIM
As a club and a board, we do recognise that we are not yet where we want to be. It is the overwhelming priority of everyone at the club to get us back to regularly challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles.
ED WOODWARD, Manchester United executive vice-chairman.
NO PANIC BUYING
January is not an optimal time in terms of availability of players, we would only buy if players we had already targeted for the summer became available. And we were pleased that this strategy played out with the signing of Bruno Fernandes.
WOODWARD, explaining the transfer strategy at Old Trafford.
"We had consistently taken the view that, because January is not an optimal time in terms of availability of players, we would only buy if players we had already targeted for the summer became available.
"And we were pleased that this strategy played out with the signing of Bruno Fernandes.
"There has been no shortage of investment in players over the past few years, with over £200 million (S$358.5 million) spent since Ole became manager."
The club have spent an estimated £948 million on players, according to Transfermarkt, since Alex Ferguson's retirement after winning his 13th league title in 2013.
It was at the same time that chief executive David Gill also left and Woodward succeeded him.
While commercial progress has continued, he has been criticised for his transfer dealings - with a series of expensive acquisitions failing to live up to expectations, from Angel di Maria to Alexis Sanchez.
The Red Devils are reported to be making a move for Aston Villa's Jack Grealish while Paul Pogba appears likely to leave.
Said the 48-year-old Woodward: "Off the pitch, it is important to note that the commercial elements of the club are geared to ensuring we have a self-sustaining model which supports investment in the playing side.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
New Red Devils? United's reported summer transfer targets
JACK GREALISH, 24, MIDFIELDER
Club: Aston Villa Expected fee: £60 million (S$107.6 million, release clause in his contract)
He has reportedly agreed personal terms with United ahead of a summer move, according to reports last week. The English playmaker has been in inspiring form this season, with nine goals and seven assists in 27 appearances in all competitions.
JAMES MADDISON, 23, MIDFIELDER
Club: Leicester City Expected fee: £70 million
He has been on their radar for some time, even as United signed Sporting Lisbon midfielder Bruno Fernandes last month. The Englishman has since dropped down the pecking order on United's wish list, with reports saying he is set to sign a new long-term deal at the King Power Stadium.
JADON SANCHO, 19, WINGER
Club: Borussia Dortmund Expected fee: £100 million
One of the hottest prospects in world football after a stunning spell with Dortmund, the Manchester City academy product has been linked with a move back to England. Chelsea are also interested in the forward. Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc has said he is unsure if Sancho will stay beyond the summer, opening the door for United to push for the Englishman.
KALIDOU KOULIBALY, 28, DEFENDER
Club: Napoli Expected fee: £64 million
United are believed to have had a bid for the Senegal centreback rejected last summer before they signed Harry Maguire instead. Koulibaly has a £127 million release clause in his contract that will be active from June, but with Napoli struggling in mid-table in the Serie A, the club could be forced to sell him for less should they fail to secure Europa League football. Italian reports said last week that United have wrapped up a deal worth £64 million.