United's pursuit of Frenkie de Jong has entered a twelfth week and the Dutchman's role at Barcelona has been further weakened by the signing of centre-back Jules Kounde from Sevilla. De Jong has been playing at centre half during Barca's pre-season tour of the United States.
De Jong's wage deferral remains the sticking point, according to senior United sources, with the 25-year-old owed around 17million by Barcelona.
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Barca's La Liga campaign starts in a fortnight's time and they are under mounting pressure to sell players in order to meet the league's strict salary caps and register new signings so they are eligible to play in competitive games.
Multiple sources have confirmed De Jong's preference is to stay at Barcelona but United are emboldened by his working relationship with manager Erik ten Hag from their time at Ajax. Ten Hag has earmarked De Jong as the “right player” United are holding out for to reinvent their midfield.
The United football director John Murtough did not attend their pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia and a well-placed source said he and chief executive Richard Arnold were “inter-railing” across Europe in an attempt to conclude deals. Murtough and Arnold were filmed in Barcelona and also travelled to Amsterdam in order to get a move for Lisandro Martinez over the line.
United have not given up on Ajax forward Antony, despite the Dutch champions' steep 80million valuation. With a dearth of proven attackers in reserve, Ten Hag last week outlined the importance of adding “more options” to the United squad.
“We signed [Christian] Eriksen for the midfield department, so we are really happy with that,” Ten Hag said. “And yes, I am really happy also with our performances of our midfield department and offensive department at this moment.
“But I also know about this season – we talk about it in Bangkok and Melbourne – it's a lot of games, the World Cup, so we need more options where you have a good team, and it's not only about the team, you need a good squad to get the right results at the end of the season.
“So we have to strengthen the squad even more and we are looking around but we also need the right players.
“There is a reason in a number of games you need more options in offence, clear. I think it's vital if you want to get success, the season is really long but we still also have time to fill that in.”
Murtough met the agent of Red Bull Salzburg striker Benjamin Sasko last week amid United's interest in adding a callow forward to their squad. United gauged the possibility of recruiting Brian Brobbey from RB Leipzig but he joined Ajax permanently, having spent the second half of last season on loan in Amsterdam.
United are expected to recruit a back-up goalkeeper as Matej Kovar and Nathan Bishop have agreed loan moves to League One sides Cheltenham Town and Wycombe Wanderers.
The club are also open to adding a new right-back but would struggle to justify an addition when they have already bought two defenders without any outgoings in that department. The arrivals of Tyrell Malacia and Lisandro Martinez were triggered by interest from other clubs.