If Jose Mourinho is right, then Manchester United are about to embark on a “difficult” season. Those were his words earlier this week in Munich, when he contemplated Thursday's transfer deadline passing without the arrival of at least one new player at Old Trafford.
A centre-back was the priority but no centre-back has arrived. Instead, United will open the new Premier League season against Leicester City on Friday night having secured only three of the five signings Mourinho desired.
Fred, the Brazil international midfielder, was this summer's most expensive acquisition, joining from Shakhtar Donetsk for £52.5m. Diogo Dalot, a teenage full-back, cost £19m from Porto. Lee Grant, who made five appearances for Stoke City last year, joined as a third-choice goalkeeper.
Toby Alderweireld, however, remains at Tottenham Hotspur. Senior United sources claimed on Thursday that negotiations with the Tottenham hierarchy only discussed players moving in the opposite direction - from Manchester to north London.
Harry Maguire is still with Leicester, too, despite speculation linking him to Old Trafford since his performances with England at the World Cup. The other defenders on Mourinho's list of targets, for one reason or another, were deemed unsuitable.
Jerome Boateng, for instance, was considered but United's interest cooled due to the 29-year-old's injury record. Memories of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Owen Hargreaves - two United players who arrived from Bavaria but spent plenty of time in the treatment room - have not faded.
Negotiations took place regarding Yerry Mina - the Colombia international who has joined Everton from Barcelona - but the fees demanded by his representatives were said to be exorbitant, apparently to the degree that they would have distorted the market.
There was a final, late flurry of speculation on Thursday, centring on Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin. The 32-year-old - who fits the profile of defender Mourinho admires - was the subject of an enquiry from United earlier this week. United received little encouragement from Atletico. Godin is expected to sign a new contract.
Senior sources at the club claim the lack of activity was not a question of money but value, with few defenders on the market considered an upgrade on Mourinho's current crop. If Raphael Varane was available from Real Madrid for £100m, United would have been prepared to make the 25-year-old the world's most expensive defender.
A key obstacle to any deal, however, was a divergence in tastes between a manager wishing to build a squad to challenge immediately and a club that is increasingly looking to the long-term.
It is no secret that Mourinho prefers to rely on experienced, battle-hardened professionals who are typically in their late-20s. Such players do not need to be developed and offer a more straightforward path to success. Their shelf life is short, though, and re-sale value small.
Fred and Dalot, the two players to arrive for significant fees this summer, are at the other end of the age scale - 25 and 19-years-old respectively. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial are also two young, talented players with time to reach their potential. It is understood that the club has no intention of letting either leave.
There are unlikely to be any departures after Thursday's deadline, in fact, despite the European market only closing at the end of the month. It is understood that United will only sell on their terms. Matteo Darmian may leave, potentially for his native Italy, but the versatility he offers at left and right-back is viewed as useful.
United were one of five Premier League clubs - along with Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Watford and since-relegated Swansea City - to vote against bringing the deadline forward from 31 August to the eve of the season.
There is support within the club, however, for a Europe-wide agreement on a pre-season date. This is considered more likely than the Premier League reversing its decision, despite many clubs being caught cold by the early deadline.
But it is the window just passed, not those of the future, that is of immediate concern. It was a challenging one for many clubs, not least United, but ask Mourinho and he may tell you that the coming season will only be harder still.
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