Gary Neville has labelled Manchester United's recruitment strategy "embarrassing" and believes the board have made it impossible for coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to succeed at the club.
The Old Trafford side have made one new signing - Donny van de Beek from Ajax - in the current transfer window. They have been pursuing Jadon Sancho for a long time but have not been able to convince Borussia Dortmund to sell and the German club say there is no chance of a deal happening this year.
United are, however, trying to sign Ousmane Dembele on loan from Barcelona while Edinson Cavani is close to joining the Red Devils on a free transfer before the window closes on Monday.
But former United and England full-back Neville says the club has fallen far behind their rivals when it comes to bringing in new players, citing the long saga surrounding Sancho as an example of their ineptitude.
“I just don’t think they’re smart enough and wise enough and agile enough in the market," he said to Off the Ball.
“I was reading that Liverpool have accepted a bid for Rhian Brewster for £24 million from Sheffield United. Liverpool aren’t just buying smart, they’re selling smart.
“I look at Chelsea and I think they buy smart, they seem to sell smart over the last 15 to 20 years.
“City spend a lot of money, but they seem to get deals done, whereas United just don’t seem to be able to get the deals done.
"Even with Harry Maguire last year, it dragged on right the way to the end, Sancho this year. They don’t seem to be able to get deals over the line, they don’t get things done efficiently or quietly.
“Liverpool announced [Diogo] Jota and Thiago [Alcantara] – I know Thiago had been linked for a bit – but it’s done at reasonably prices, £27m and £40m, no hundreds, so I just think they’re not smart enough.
“They’re being outwitted in the market by the other clubs and if you lose recruitment you don’t win the league, it’s as simple as that. You can have a great coach, but if you don’t get the right players you’re not going to win the league.
“The Sancho thing is embarrassing. It’s been going on now for fourth months. It’s embarrassing, that. And then to put a bid in that gets rejected... the smart clubs, they have deals sorted behind the scenes, the agents are working hard, club officials are agreed on things and when the bids goes in it gets accepted, it’s done.
“Who puts bids in nowadays that aren’t accepted? That doesn’t happen that often. Very rarely.
“Generally clubs have the deal sorted, the agents knows what the player’s getting, the player knows what the club are getting, the club knows what the other club are getting. I just don’t understand it at all, it’s not great. That’s why I’ve been critical."
United finished third in the Premier League last season, 15 points behind runners-up Manchester City and 33 adrift of champions Liverpool.
They are aiming to compete for the top-flight title under Solskjaer, but Neville says they are a long way from achieving that goal.
“Ole, for me, has a period of time to win the league. He’s been there one and a half seasons and this is his third season," he added.
“Will he be expected to win the league this season? No, but maybe next season in his fourth he’ll have to win the league.
“He can’t win the league, it’s impossible to win the league against the Liverpool team this year unless he gets three or four players that takes him towards it.
“So essentially your tying the manager’s hands behind his back if you’re not giving him the players he needs to win the league and yet you’re setting him the target of winning the league.”