COMMENT: By the end of this transfer window, Ed Woodward and Manchester United could raise over £220m from simply two player sales - and be left with nothing to show for it. That is, apart from a glaring gap in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's line-up.
Yes, there is a good case to be made for Paul Pogba's sale. As there is, though to a lesser extent, for Romelu Lukaku's. For Pogba, the initial asking price demanded by Woodward is £160-170m - depending on how the Euro is traveling that day. In Lukaku's case, it's £60-65m - a fee already settled with Inter Milan. And in both circumstances, United's vice-chairman is demanding straight cash deals. A demand which makes little sense given how far United have fallen.
United are already flush with cash. Solskjaer's summer budget marked at £100m - conservatively. But as we've seen so far this window, even with this spending power, United are having trouble attracting the right players.
Daniel James, via Championship Swansea City, is through the door. And Aaron Wan-Bissaka is expected to be next. Though United face having to pay well over the odds to convince Crystal Palace to sell. This despite getting a clear run at the England U21 fullback. Like with the James deal, United face little competition for Wan-Bissaka, yet they're still having to work hard for it.
Good players with potential. But not exactly coveted - nor the type to immediately lift a sixth-ranked team.
Indeed, when it comes to competing for a player, United are finding themselves snubbed. Woodward has bid for Harry Maguire, of Leicester City. Twelve months on from telling Jose Mourinho he couldn't sign England's World Cup hero, the vice-chairman has now made his move. But things have changed. Last summer. Last August. Maguire wanted to move to Old Trafford. At his end, it even reached the stage of discussing with Leicester what should happen if an offer was to materialise. But today, the centre-half has other priorities - in the form of the champions. Should Manchester City firm up their interest, Maguire would jump at the chance of a move to the Etihad. In contrast, if Woodward was to get close to the Foxes' valuation, there's no guarantee Maguire would accept a move away. An approach Brendan Rodgers, Leicester's manager, has been made aware of.
This is the reality facing United today. No player of note is running towards them. The prospect of the Europa League. And arriving just as Pogba and Lukaku are leaving. On paper, it's a pretty hard sell to make. Even for those whom can be attracted, their clubs are under no pressure to sell. And seeing a desperate United on the other side of the table, they can afford to demand crazy prices on threat of simply walking away. United paid double their initial £10m valuation for James. Palace, meanwhile, have set a £60m rating for Wan-Bissaka. Even at the mooted compromise of £45m, they're being encouraged to sell. Former Eagles striker Neil Shipperley nailing what many connected to the club are saying, "It's a great deal for the club.
"The fans aren't going to like this but what they've got to realise is that this kid could still be in the under-23s."
And if United are finding it so difficult to reach a realistic fee for an unproven player of potential, then what chance does Woodward and his No2 Matt Judge have of landing those whom can actually make a difference?
Their one chance are the assets already in play: Pogba and Lukaku. Woodward should be using both players as bargaining chips to bring to the club players capable of an instant impact.
There'll still be the need of Solskjaer's persuasive powers. But taking players off the hands of Real Madrid, Juventus and Inter Milan. Players perhaps not guaranteed a start at their club, but with the hunger to prove their doubters wrong. It does still fit with Solskjaer's demands that United now swerve those big money, big ego deals.
With Pogba, United could be asking after Moise Kean at Juve. Isco or a forgotten Mariano Diaz at Real Madrid. At Inter, it's already been revealed an offer to include Milan Skriniar in the Lukaku deal was rejected by Woodward. Instead, he's haggling with Leicester about a £90m-rated - and reluctant - Maguire.
If United must lose Pogba and Lukaku this summer, they should be making these assets work for them. Having £300m-plus in the budget means little if there's no-one to spend it on.