From functional to fantastic – Sir Alex Ferguson’s summer targets are evidence of his determination to bring the wow factor back to Old Trafford.
The Manchester United manager’s incredible success has been built around the fact he is impossible to satisfy – and not even a record 19th title last season or a third Champions League final in four years has lessened his determination to take his side to the next level.
He has set his sights on some of Europe’s most dazzling talent in Wesley Sneijder, Alexis Sanchez, Luka Modric and Samir Nasri to give his team the sparkle it needs to challenge Barcelona’s supremacy.
The chastening defeat to Pep Guardiola’s brilliant team last month is increasingly looking like one of the watershed moments of his career.
Like defeat to the same side in 1994 and Champions League elimination to Real Madrid in 2003, Ferguson will use that disappointment to revolutionise his team.
Real’s 6-5 aggregate win in the Champions League quarter final in 2003 prompted Ferguson to begin the building of his third great side.
He did so despite ending that campaign as Premier League champions.
Out went David Beckham, with Ronaldinho – Zidane’s successor as the best player in the world – his primary target.
United ultimately missed out on the Brazilian but signed an unknown Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon.
Wayne Rooney came a year later and Carlos Tevez the summer after Ferguson’s latest generation won their first title in 2007, going on to become champions of Europe the following season.
Ronaldo and Tevez have since departed and, despite winning a fourth title in five years, United’s latest success was achieved without the flair of their predecessors.
And despite coming within 90 minutes of another Champions League crown, their humbling Barca loss, showed just how far away they are from being considered Europe’s best.
In many ways Ferguson’s hand has been forced.
Paul Scholes’ decision to retire at the end of last season and Ryan Giggs’ aging limbs has robbed United of two their most enduring flair players, while Dimitar Berbatov has failed to provide consistent moments of magic and the earnest work of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick cannot come close to raising United to the level of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi at Barca in centre midfield.
That is why Ferguson has made flair a priority in a record-breaking summer of transfer activity.
He has already committed the best part of £55m to the triple signing of £18.3m goalkeeper, David de Gea, Phil Jones at £16.5m and £20m Ashley Young.
But he still has the money to splash out on a superstar name, which is expected to see him break United’s transfer record.
Both Sneijder and Sanchez would come in for more than £30m, while Tottenham hope to create a bidding war between United, City and Chelsea for Modric.
Spurs chief Daniel Levy, has already rejected a £22m bid from Chelsea and, having sold Berbatov for £30.75m, will expect a similar amount for the Croatian playmaker.
United also retain interest in Nasri, who would be the cheapest option, but it is increasingly likely he will remain at Arsenal.
Ferguson will be extremely disappointed if he cannot land one of those targets, knowing he needs a top class replacement for Scholes.
Udinese winger Sanchez is the hottest property in Europe and is also a target for Barca and City.
Should either of those sides pip United to the signing of the 22-year-old then it would be doubly disappointing.
Sneijder has been a top target for United for the past 12 months and sources in Holland claim the Dutchman would be keen on a move to Old Trafford.
But Inter Milan would want £35m for the player who led them to Champions League glory in 2010, while Reds would have to meet wage demands of around £175,000 a week.
Ironically, Ferguson’s determination to add more flair to his side is placing renewed question marks over the future of Nani.
United’s player of the year enjoyed his most consistent season since signing in 2007 but, should Sanchez join Young then the Portuguese winger’s opportunities could be limited.
There have been suggestions Inter might want him as a makeweight in any deal for Sneijder, which could significantly reduce the cash outlay United would have to spend on the Dutch World Cup star.