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Manchester United's Bosses Are Wasting Their Time if They Want Top-of-the-Range Talents

The reality is that, on the pitch at least, United are no longer the European giants they were four or five years ago and even then there a was a team from Catalonia on a completely different level above.

"We won't buy a new striker unless one of the best becomes available", is what Louis van Gaal essentially said after Manchester United drew 0-0 at home to Newcastle on Saturday. And United fans know better than to expect a result there, if history is anything to go by.

They may have been more positive had their club not spent the past three weeks childishly playing hard to get before missing out on arguably the best (and cheapest) available attacking player of the summer transfer window.

Links to Neymar, Gareth Bale and Thomas Muller - for anywhere between £60m and £240m, allegedly - seem more far-fetched now than they would have done before United failed to secure Pedro, whom it was commonly known could be bought out of his Barcelona contract for little over £20m.

According to The Daily Mail, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward issued a message along the lines of the following to his associates the morning after Pedro picked Chelsea instead: 'Don't worry, we have bigger targets,' he reportedly affirmed. 'The Pedro thing will eventually be forgotten.'

But Woodward and United have been down this road more than once during his two-and-a-bit years in David Gill's old job and it's often led to a frustrating dead end.

First there was Thiago Alcantara, who joined Bayern Munich, then Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea (again) and finally Sergio Ramos, who used United to engineer his way to a new deal and greater power at Real Madrid. Can they really land bigger targets than Pedro? I wouldn't count on it.

The reality is that, on the pitch at least, United are no longer the European giants they were four or five years ago and even then there a was a team from Catalonia on a completely different level above.

Even then, following a mid-noughties resurgence that led to three consecutive league titles and a third European Cup, United weren't buying up the continent's best talents. Their star signings throughout that period - Ronaldo, Rooney, Ferdinand, Vidic, Van der Sar - were either extracted from domestic rivals or shrewdly acquired from abroad before being sculpted into winners by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Until now, their 2015 business has followed this formula. Schneiderlin from Southampton, Darmian from Torino, Depay from PSV Eindhoven. Thinking in terms of long-term potential, each represents a sound investment. Short-term-wise, Bastian Schweinsteiger, while not the midfield machine he was three or four years ago, is a bargain at £6m.

So with less than a week to go until the transfer window closes, are United not wasting their time seeking out those top-of-the-range talents? It hardly requires Lionel Messi to improve their current front line.

So far, only two league goals have been scored by United in 2015-16 and one of those was by an opposition player, while the other required a deflection on its way in. It may be a little early in the season to expect title-winning fluidity levels, but it's never too soon to express concern.

And there are concerns aplenty. United were the lowest scorers of all the top four last season and that was before the sale of 10-goal Robin van Persie to Fenerbahce. Wayne Rooney's scoring drought stands at an alarming 10 club matches, while Javier Hernandez hasn't found the net in United colours since April 2014.

These are Van Gaal's senior strikers. Beyond them are Marouane Fellaini, a midfielder by trade and James Wilson, who isn't quite ready for regular United action, but whose undoubted potential is being wasted on the bench.

Even more alarming for Rooney is how uncomfortable he appears in Van Gaal's 4-2-3-1 system. He is arguably United's best player, but only if played to his strengths and in his preferred role which is slightly behind the main striker. His strengths have never been to lead a line, nor to play as a box-to-box midfielder, as Van Gaal toyed with last season. He lacks the tactical discipline for both and can often pop up in areas where he isn't needed, desperately seeking involvement.

These sorts of Rooney experiments should have been carried out in his early twenties, not at 29, when he should be at the very peak of his powers. It's hardly his fault that he's not.

Rooney would certainly benefit from playing alongside a centre-forward who stretches defences, be it through pace, power or sheer presence. Someone in the mould of Romelu Lukaku at Everton would tick all three of those boxes. Although the Belgian is likely to be expensive, he is someone who United could realistically attract.

Lukaku's erratics would be welcome in this all-too-sensible United side, while also relieving the pressure on Rooney. In that respect, it'd be like making two signings in one. At 22, he may not be the finished article, but if that's what Woodward and Van Gaal are waiting for then they'd be best advised to set up camp.

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