It is a signal of Manchester United’s intent that, after a record summer of spending, they remain interested in adding another elite signing to their ranks next summer.
Erik ten Hag was backed with a whopping £225 million in his first transfer window, a figure that was somewhat offset by the number of players they lost for free, but still an enormous sum regardless of the mitigation.
So far, the Dutchman’s transfer record has been near-flawless, and it’s difficult to see that changing if the club can deliver on either of his top midfield targets next summer.
The problem for United is that while they remain interested in a deal for Jude Bellingham or Frenkie de Jong, they might not actually be able to justify either of them right now.
The club have already spent more than they had planned to do at this stage of their rebuild under Ten Hag and would further accelerate those plans if they moved for a striker next month.
Even if they don’t, they will have to sign one next summer, at a time when they also need a new right-back and a new goalkeeper. Add in the conundrum of renewing contracts to the equation, and signing a young creative midfielder will be some way down the pecking order.
Given that Bellingham is expected to move next year, United might be missing their only chance of ever signing him, given that a move to either Man City or Liverpool would surely end any hopes of seeing him paraded on the Old Trafford pitch.
De Jong is certainly the more achievable signing of the two given there is less competition for his signature, though he would still require an enormous fee to sign and represents less longevity given he is six years older than Bellingham.
Another potential problem is that if United sign another elite midfielder next year, then one of Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen or Casemiro would lose their place in the team.
There is certainly scope for having a younger option to supplement that trio, though it might be better advised to add another player who wouldn’t expect to start every match initially.
In that case, there is certainly scope for United to give a youngster the chance to fill that role, an argument further fuelled by the fact that two of their most promising academy prospects play in such a position.
The leading candidate to do that would be Zidane Iqbal. He shone during the pre-season tour this past summer in a deep playmaking role, and played in the same position against Bolton in the EFL Trophy last week.
Iqbal, 19, has yet to make a competitive appearance under Ten Hag this season but could well feature against Burnley in the Carabao Cup this midweek and is almost certain to be on the bench at the very least.
He has been an unused substitute on nine occasions this season and could benefit from a loan spell next season to help accelerate his development. Of course, that would be in conflict with United’s need for an alternative creative midfielder, so there is certainly reason to give him a proper chance this season before that decision is reached.
Another option would be to give that opportunity to Kobbie Mainoo, arguably the most exciting youngster at the club right now, who is already catching the eye of Ten Hag and his coaches.
The 17-year-old has been a regular in senior training sessions this season and impressed with his performances during the recent warm-weather training camp in Spain.
There is an understanding that the Stockport-born starlet has the potential to become United’s next breakthrough academy star, though there must always be reservations about any young hopeful actually fulfilling their potential.
United have already received a number of loan enquiries for the highly rated teenager ahead of the January transfer window, but it is thought that he would be better off staying where he is for the time being to develop.
It is a pretty similar situation for both of the promising youngsters in that, while they have enormous technical ability and have impressed during friendly matches, neither of them has ever done so in competitive matches yet.