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With debts of almost £500m, the club keep failing to land leading targets as the Croatian joins an impressive list of stars to slip through the Old Trafford outfit's grasp

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By Greg Stobart | Northern Correspondent

As a man who is steadfast in his refusal to settle for second best, Sir Alex Ferguson must be exasperated at the number of transfer targets he has crossed off the list in recent years before turning to Plan B.

The latest is Luka Modric, the Tottenham midfielder who Ferguson has been tracking for several years and tried to sign for Manchester United in the last two summers.

THE STARS UNITED MISSED OUT ON

KARIM BENZEMA | 2009
SIGNED FOR REAL MADRID
DAVID VILLA | 2010
SIGNED FOR BARCELONA
SAMIR NASRI | 2011
SIGNED FOR MAN CITY
WESLEY SNEIJDER | 2011
STAYED WITH INTER
EDEN HAZARD | 2012
SIGNED FOR CHELSEA

On both occasions, the major stumbling block has been Tottenham's £40 million-valuation of the Croatian and United's refusal - or inability - to pay what they consider an excessive asking price.

Modric would be perfect for United. The most natural successor to Paul Scholes to pull the strings in midfield, the former Dinamo Zagreb star now looks likely to join Real Madrid, with his departure from White Hart Lane almost certain.

It has been a familiar theme for United ever since the club was bought by the Glazer family in 2005. While the 19-time champions of English football still have a huge pull due to their history and the quality of their squad, deals are continually scuppered by the finances involved.

Ferguson had privately hoped that would change this summer, but the delay in the Glazers' plans for a partial stock market flotation in Singapore has denied the club the opportunity to raise more funds.

Ferguson talks about a lack of value in the transfer market, but United fans well remember when the Scot was happy to break records and spend huge sums on the likes of Jaap Stam, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand.

Dimitar Berbatov, signed from Spurs for £30.75m in 2008, may be the exception to the rule but United faced no competition for his signature and his wage demands were well within the club's budget.

The same cannot be said for Eden Hazard, the Belgian attacker who snubbed both United and their neighbours Manchester City to sign for Chelsea in May.

United felt they had put forward a strong argument to sign Hazard from Lille, but were not prepared to offer the player more than £130,000-a-week and baulked and his agent's demand for £6m.

Chelsea blew United out of the water by offering £200,000-a-week and agreeing to pay the agent fee, forcing the Red Devils to turn to Plan B as they signed Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund.

Last summer, United were similarly gazumped as Manchester City signed Samir Nasri from Arsenal on a weekly wage of £170,000. Wesley Sneijder, another target, refused to accept a pay cut on his £200,000-a-week salary and stayed at Inter.

Sometimes footballing reasons have been the main consideration. Ferguson spent two years sweet-talking Karim Benzema but the French striker was determined to play for Real Madrid, while David Villa was reluctant to leave Spain as he signed for Barcelona from Valencia in 2010.

But these elite players - among the best in the world in their positions - are what United need if they are going to regain the Premier League title and challenge for Champions League glory.

KINGS OF EUROPE?
12/1 Manchester United are 12/1 to win the 2012-13 Champions League with Paddy Power
How can Ferguson preach about value when United sold Cristiano Ronaldo for £80m in 2009? He knows full well the worth of players in the modern transfer market - but he also knows he does not have the money to buy them.

United's debts of almost £500m and their huge interest payments are stopping the club from competing financially with the likes of City, Chelsea and the two Spanish giants.

They do not need a sugar daddy - their revenues are quite extraordinary - but the enormous strain of the debt is a noose around the club's neck. And without investment, there is a real risk that City will pull away as the leading team in English football in the coming years.

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