Manchester United are eyeing Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz as a move for Frenkie de Jong continues to be held up. Erik ten Hag is determined to secure a top-quality holding midfielder and sees the Spain international as an ideal alternative if top target De Jong cannot be secured.
United have spent the summer chasing the Barcelona star – who is still their ideal signing - and have even agreed an initial fee of £55 million ($66m) with the Catalan giants.
But a row over deferred wages owed to the former Ajax player has held up a deal – and means Ten Hag will start the season without addressing the position he identified as a priority in his first window at the club.
Will Man Utd sign Ruiz instead of De Jong?
While United have remained encouraged they will eventually land De Jong, their pursuit of Ruiz is evidence they are finally running out of patience.
Ruiz, 26, has won 15 caps for Spain and is a key player for Napoli. He is a cultured defensive midfielder, who Ten Hag believes can dictate play with his range of passing and provide a link between defence and attack.
United privately insisted they had alternatives in the event that a deal for De Jong could not be completed, with Youri Tielemans and Ruben Neves also admired.
But Ruiz's contract situation, with his deal in Italy set to expire in the summer of 2023, could make him the most affordable option.
Is Ruiz the right player for Man Utd?
Ten Hag has driven the pursuit of De Jong and has been reluctant to switch targets.
On Friday the United manager said: "You don't need any player, you need the right player, that's what we're working for. If it's not the right player, no (we would not sign another player). We need the right players.
"We said it before, the squad is still searching to strengthen the squad.”
Ten Hag has refused to publicly discuss De Jong, but has been clear about the need for a holding midfielder.
"We want Frenkie?" he added when questioned about his former player. "It's about the right players and I cannot give comments on a player under contract at another club.
"You work with the current squad and develop players in your current squad. In this moment we have players in that position and perform really well."