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Sir Alex Ferguson's successor has missed out on one of his key summer transfer targets and must respond decisively to solve his new side's long-standing midfield conundrum

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By Jeremy Butler

If David Moyes presumed that running a club with a bank vault full of cash, a princely reputation and a world class squad would entitle him to a simpler life than the one he was accustomed to at Everton, then the whirlwind start he has encountered at Manchester United would have dispelled any such notion.

The conjecture that surrounds Wayne Rooney’s future remains, despite Moyes’ insistence that the striker’s future lies at Old Trafford, while Thiago's decision to snub the English champions in favour of teaming up with Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich represents a significant early setback.

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
DE GEA: I HOPE THIAGO JOINS UNITED
UNITED OFFER THIAGO £6.2m SALARY
GUARDIOLA: I WANT THIAGO AT BAYERN
OFFICIAL: BAYERN AGREE THIAGO FEE
United are no strangers to missing out on big-name targets in recent years. From Ronaldinho in 2003 and Arjen Robben in 2004, the Red Devils have seen Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil, David Villa, Samir Nasri, Wesley Sneijder and Lucas Moura all decide against moving to Old Trafford. And the latest example leaves Moyes pondering a puzzle that even Sir Alex Ferguson failed to solve...how do you replace Paul Scholes?

The decision to bring him out of retirement was a damning indictment of United's midfielders, and has been cited as a reason why Paul Pogba left the club last summer. Make no mistake, United's need for Thiago would have been significantly diminished had the talented Frenchman been retained.

But despite that, and any talk of Rooney's future, Moyes' priority is now to find a long-term answer to United’s midfield conundrum. The declarations of Ed Woodward, the club's executive vice president, that there is a possibility of breaking the transfer record this summer indicates that a lack of funding should not represent a barrier to Moyes’ ambitions.

Tellingly, Moyes himself has acknowledged that the midfield needs reinforcing, which is more than his predecessor managed in recent years.

"We are short there and will look to strengthen," he told the Sunday Times. It has been claimed recently that Thiago was not necessarily Moyes' first choice, and while he would certainly have been a popular signing among United fans, the suggestions are that the Scot has got his fingers in a number of other pies.

"We’re working hard to get the first transfer in and to make sure it's the right one," he added. "I've been left a really good team and I want to add to it sensibly."

Sensible seems to be the watch word at Old Trafford these days. Moyes, of course, was seen as the sensible choice to replace Ferguson. After working on a tight budget at Goodison Park, the 50-year-old certainly knows how to spend his money wisely, too.

But let it not be said United were not extremely keen on signing Thiago. Representatives of both club and player met on several occasions, and a £120,000-per-week contract was laid on the table in order to lure him from Catalunya. The promise of first-team football went hand-in-hand with that, with United prepared to make the 22-year-old a key part of their plans. The interest of his former coach, Guardiola, and the chance to play for the European champions blew United out of the water. It was undoubtedly a setback, and the public nature of it means Moyes will have to recover strongly quickly.

THIAGO LATEST
4/6 Cesc Fabregas is 4/6 with BetVictor to join Manchester United
The task he faces at Old Trafford has been well documented, but the importance of his summer business cannot be understated. Football clubs, especially Manchester United, rarely interest themselves in appeasing the media or fans, but Moyes knows that his every move this summer will be pored over in forensic detail.

A big-name signing would go a long way to ease the pressure, but Moyes will be more concerned with what any new arrival can offer United on the pitch than how many shirts he can sell.

Finding the right balance will be one of the biggest decisions Moyes has to make in his entire career. With concerns in some quarters that Ferguson's departure might signal a decline similar to the one that afflicted the club following Sir Matt Busby's retirement in 1969, finding the central midfield presence so sorely missed at Old Trafford in recent years could prove invaluable.

Whereas Thiago is undoubtedly talented and full of promise, Moyes may be more inclined to go for somebody with Premier League experience.

Talk of a move for Cesc Fabregas has resurfaced now his former Barca team-mate is out of bounds, and snatching him away from Camp Nou, and the inevitable overtures of former club Arsenal, would be an aggressive show of intent.

It remains to be seen how new Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti plans to use Luka Modric, but the former Tottenham schemer would set pulses racing in Manchester. Juventus' Claudio Marchisio has also been mentioned fleetingly.

Such fanciful name dropping will serve little purpose for Moyes. Plans are undoubtedly in place, secret negotiations ongoing, and nobody would bet against a surprise signing in the coming days. Indeed, United have made concrete moves to sign Ezequiel Garay from Benfica, but there will be a number of others on the radar.

Protestations from the boardroom that United can spend upwards of £80m on one player were no doubt handily timed to coincide with Thiago's rejection, while Moyes' pulling power at the top table is legitimately questioned.

With Thiago snatched away in a very public fashion by Guardiola, many at United will be wondering about their current standing in the world game. And with Ferguson gone and what seems a gaping hole in the middle of the pitch, Moyes can go a long way to making things right with his summer dealings.

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