By Greg Stobart
Another one bites the dust for David Moyes and Manchester United.
Cesc Fabregas became the latest player to snub the Premier League champions on Thursday when the midfielder confirmed he will stay at Barcelona next season.
In truth, United’s very public pursuit of Fabregas always looked doomed, despite the club’s willingness to pay up to €40 million to land the former Arsenal captain.
Moyes is desperate to secure a top-class central midfielder this summer. It has been a problem position in recent seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson and has become an even more pressing concern in light of Paul Scholes’ retirement and Darren Fletcher’s ongoing fitness problems.
Yes, United would not have launched successive bids for Fabregas had they not received at least some indication that he would be interested in a move to Old Trafford, but the word from the player’s camp - and the Camp Nou - all summer has been that the 26-year-old would stay for at least one more season.
|THE BELGIAN BRUISER
|FELLAINI'S 2012-13 SEASON
PASSES PER GAME
KEY PASSES PER GAME
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AERIAL DUELS WON PER GAME
TACKLES PER GAME
But even beyond those two, United have endured four further failed pursuits of midfield targets this summer.
Firstly, a £35m enquiry for Real Madrid star Luka Modric was swiftly dismissed by the Spanish giants last month, while United have also made discreet approaches for Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, as well as Juventus stars Claudio Marchisio and, astonishingly, Arturo Vidal.
United were given indications that the prodigious Italian starlet had his heart set on a move from Paris to Juventus which sent them in the direction of the Serie A champions to check on the availability of Vidal and Marchisio. Tentative enquiries were flatly rejected - the scattergun approach yielded no rewards.
Slowly but surely, United’s transfer window - dominated by speculation surrounding the future of Wayne Rooney - threatens to descend into a farce.
Now United will turn to Plan F.
Marouane Fellaini has always been the fall-back option for Moyes and it looks increasingly likely that the Belgian will follow his former manager’s journey from Everton to Old Trafford.
Moyes is an admirer of the 25-year-old, a versatile, physical midfielder proven in the Premier League, but if Fellaini was a priority for United they would have signed him two months ago.
After all, the £22m buyout clause in Fellaini’s contract, allowing him to join a side in the Champions League, expired on July 31, meaning United will be forced to negotiate with Everton to agree a deal for the player.
As it is, as revealed by Goal last month, the Premier League champions have been forced to turn to Fellaini following the failure of their other pursuits, rather than having identified the Everton man as their preferred option.
While Fellaini would be a reliable signing for Moyes, he is hardly the stellar name to mark a new era at the club following Ferguson’s retirement, nor does he satisfy the need for more creativity in the side.
Given Moyes’ public comments about United’s attempts to land Fabregas - and, indeed, his insistence that Rooney is not for sale - the club face something of a PR battle before the transfer window shuts on September 2.
It has been difficult for Moyes, while new executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has also floundered as the leader of transfer negotiations following David Gill’s resignation.
United cruised to the Premier League title last term but there is a sense that they have needed to make a statement signing before they start their title defence against Swansea on August 17.
So far, their transfer policy has lacked direction and strategy - although you can’t fault their ambition in chasing some of the best midfielders in Europe.
Fellaini should arrive in the coming weeks, but you have to wonder if this is now United’s place in the food chain in the Moyes era.