"Hitting a brick wall" was how Sir Alex Ferguson described his transfer pursuits yesterday morning and by close of play last night he had struck another obstacle as Bayern Munich refused to sell Owen Hargreaves despite an offer of almost £20m from Manchester United for the England international.
United revealed their desperation to add the combative midfielder to their championship-chasing squad when they lodged an offer of €30m (£19.7m) with the Bundesliga superpower. However, despite previous assurances from Bayern chairman Franz Beckenbauer that a sum in that region would secure the signature of Hargreaves, Ferguson was frustrated once again as the German club insisted they would not part with the player before the end of the season.
Speaking to the German tabloid newspaper Bild, Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge insisted United's improved offer would not alter his club's stance, although he stopped short of rejecting the bid outright. "It does not come into question," he said. "In the summer we will see how things work out."
The attempt by United to force through a deal before the close of business in 12 days' time was confirmed by the Munich midfielder himself, who celebrates his 26th birthday today, still hoping for a move he has actively encouraged since last summer.
"It's been official that Manchester United have made an offer for me," he revealed. "Man United has developed into such a talented team; such a great nucleus. Look at Rio [Ferdinand], Wazza [Wayne Rooney] and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the best players in Europe at the moment. They've got incredible potential and for a club like Man United to make an offer is something I appreciate."
Old Trafford officials were last night contemplating their next move in the transfer saga but, despite the frosty reception for the bid, they believe Bayern's resolve may weaken as the January deadline approaches. If it does not, United will try once again for Hargreaves in the summer.
Bayern's glittering and populist hierarchy have issued conflicting signals over Hargreaves' availability for several months, with Beckenbauer accepting that the deal represents a fine return on a player they brought over from Canada as a teenager, but Rummenigge and general manager Uli Hoeness are refusing to negotiate with their Old Trafford counterparts. The latter's insistence that Bayern need the player more than money has deepened this week with the news that Sebastian Deisler, the Germany midfielder, is to retire at the age of 27, and fellow midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic has signed a pre-contract agreement with Italian giants Juventus.
Hargreaves, who has missed most of this season with a broken leg, returned to training this week and is expected to be involved in competitive action ahead of the Champions' League tie with Real Madrid next month.
Ferguson's dogged pursuit of the midfielder commenced in the aftermath of his sterling performances at the World Cup.
Ferguson's willingness to pay £19.7m for a player who - pre-Germany - was condescendingly dismissed on these shores, reveals the United manager's concern at the lack of cover for his current central midfield. Though Paul Scholes and, latterly, Michael Carrick have formed a healthy pairing in United's rise, there are few outstanding candidates to fill their roles should either succumb to injury.
Quite where Hargreaves would fit into United's current style of play, with Scholes outstanding this season, is a source of debate, but a hypothetical one unless Bayern finally relent.
"We are hitting a brick wall at the moment but it's interesting that ourselves, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have been very quiet," said Ferguson.
"Blackburn and Ports-mouth have done a bit of business, I spoke to Martin O'Neill last week and he's finding it very difficult to get players in. It's not easy in January."