Louis van Gaal has been handed a beacon of hope in his pursuit of Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels after fellow contenders Barcelona admitted they are looking elsewhere for reinforcements.
The Catalan giants had been seen as United's biggest competition for Hummels' signature in recent months, but sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta is quoted by the Express' Anthony Chapman as saying Valencia's Jeremy Mathieu is a priority:
Valencia already know our offer and we want to maintain privacy in the negotiations. Of course we have other alternatives if this falls through. Hopefully by La Liga's start we have that centre-back position covered. If we wanted a centre-back before now, we would have signed one.
We want someone who can put in top performances for many years and that's what we're working on. Signing a centre-back is an objective for 80-90 per cent of the major European clubs so it not only depends on what we want to do - the exception is David Luiz to Paris St-Germain, that's the only real major movement in this regard.
For Louis van Gaal, the hunt for Hummels represents something of an admission for past failings, the Dutchman having just assumed the Bayern Munich helm in 2009 when the Yellow and Blacks purchased his signature.
Five years later and the centre-back holds his place as the spine of a German defence that just became 2014 World Cup champions, with numerous experts selecting the defender in their teams of the tournament:
For a long time now, Hummels has been seen as something of an untouchable transfer target, contracted to Dortmund until 2017 and playing such an essential role in their recent successes.
However, that stance could loosen, with Metro's Norwegian Musings reporting that a deal has been reached to sign Hummels' fellow World Cup winner Matthias Ginter from Frieburg:
The youngster's arrival may not act as an immediate indicator that Der BVB are willing to sell their star central defender, but it will assuredly ease their mind at the prospect of seeing their ranks at the back diminish, as well as adding extra competition.
Prior to Van Gaal's arrival at Old Trafford, the demeanour surrounding possible transfer targets was considerably more dour but after acquiring Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera for a combined £63 million, hopes are once again high of building an elite squad.
Centre-back should be a priority for the manager, too, given that the Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand's exits leave the club with a dwindling amount of experience and leadership at the back.
Barca will have been seen as serious competition for Hummels, as La Liga is seen by some players as a better alternative to the English top flight at present, but their bowing out is a bright sign for the Red Devils.
That being said, any potential deal to take Hummels is still a long way off and by no means do United have an easy fight on their hands in luring his services to join their cause.