Sneijder? Surely not.
For months the global media has constantly returned to the theme that Wesley Sneijder will go to Manchester United.
The thing is, while it is easy to see that United have struggled at times—and the City defeat was seen by some as a death knell—they have still only lost one match in the Premier League, where they have more points than at the same stage last year.
Yes, they also lost against Crystal Palace, but that wasn't even a fully fledged second team.
It is easy to overlook the burgeoning injury list that Sir Alex Ferguson has had to manage around. No sooner were the pundits purring about the next generation, with a midfield including Tom Cleverley and Welbeck in attack, then both were struck down with injury.
The majority of the frailty since the explosive start, during which Rooney scored 10 goals in five games, has been hung around an inability to field a consistent defence, with every potential member missing out at some stage due to injury—except Phil Jones.
And not just midfield
And yet, it's the midfield that is getting much of the attention.
Sir Alex believes that there isn't value in the market, especially in January, although he found just such when he signed Evra and Vidic.
His attitude may have changed, however, following the shocking defeat by Crystal Palace, even though it was a weakened team. Many commentators have pointed out that up to nine internationals were fielded. Although the manager has often referred to the difficulty of giving so many players game time—especially the young aspirants—he has a right to expect that those who believe they deserve a place in the first team will hit the ground running.
Phil Jones versatility gives the Boss the choice of buying another defender.
So will Sir Alex buy anyone at all?
He's in transition mode again, viz not only the need to replace retirees Scholes and Neville, together with Giggs in due course but also the staged replacement of Ferdinand, Berbatov, Carrick and Vidic as they approach their "sell by" dates.
Assuming their continued loyalty, he could either sell those players one by one to recoup some value or, as he seems to have indicated with Berbatov, keep them on the back burner until needed. This is the basis on which Michael Owen has been retained so far.
At the end of the day, Sir Alex would surely rather have a player of any age that will pledge their career to United than one who is constantly surveying possibilities elsewhere.
Paul Pogba and William Keane are good examples. For my money, both are going to be full internationals, with bright futures; but while Pogba would be a devastating loss, if he's seriously considering offers elsewhere, then it's only a matter of time before he'll move on anyhow.
Whereas Will Keane (and his brother Michael), like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, would pledge their lives to the red shirt. As the Crystal Palace match showed, that's what you want when the chips are down. Pogba looked a class-act but somehow seemed distracted.
Blending immediate needs with the past and the future
So, as with the team in general, any transfer activity in January or indeed next summer should be dictated by the long term strategy with, perhaps some tinkering to meet shorter-term needs. After all, there is no harm bringing in a star of the future or even a squad player, earlier than you need—and the current need is in midfield, as it has been since Roy Keane left.
It's interesting to see what is going on elsewhere. City and Liverpool seem in the main to be buying the finished product. Chelsea are building for the future if all the rumours about young players are true. Arsenal have always pursued a youth policy under Wenger.
United have done as well as any of the top six in producing their own players and the current crop may be the richest ever, with Pogba, Morrison, Fryers, both Keanes, Wootton, Macheda, Cleverley, Welbeck, Tunnicliffe, etc., to name but a few.
So the key to the future is whether those young players have red blood running through them; because if they have, they'll get their chance, however long it takes, and will become either stars or squad players.
This means that Sir Alex has to gauge three things above all: what are the immediate needs; which players are investments for the future; and which will he have to replace from outside.
January or summer?
While Sir Alex suggests it is difficult to find value in January, there is an interesting set of dynamics at play.
First, the top clubs compete for the same top players. While City signed Dzeko, Real Madrid Benzema and Barcelona David Villa, SAF bought the future in Javier Hernandez. Some of his gambles in the past haven't paid off (Bebe.)
Increasingly, those same clubs are looking at the global pool of talented youth, such as Neymar, Lucas Ocampos, Marek Hamsik, Mario Gotze, et al.
The summer is when most business is done. If you're desperate you may have to pay up in January.
The UEFA FFP rules are looming. It is no surprise that clubs such as City and Chelsea have been notching their expensive acquisitions before next summer to give themselves time to have a clear-out and balance the books.
This latter point may be uppermost in Sir Alex's mind. It is possible that transfer fees will fall sharply when FFP comes into being, but United will have no difficulty meeting the requirements. Their salary structure is more realistic than City, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and they have the commercial revenues to cope with a steady but generous transfer budget for years to come—especially if they get the Singapore float away and pay off the debt.
The final consideration is how quickly Sir Alex will want to clear the decks and bed in the caucus of his future squad. Apart from planned obsolescence of senior players, there may be rather more dead wood after the Palace debacle.
Who comes in could be a function of who goes out
First, there is the matter of loans. SAF has already indicated that Macheda, Diouf, Pogba and Morrison will go out on loan. On the other side of the coin is who comes back. Wootton is apparently already back at Old Trafford due to injury—he may get his chance next year; and Tunnicliffe could be needed if Darron Gibson is sold.
When it comes to who might be sold, that will largely be dictated by the market. It's no secret that Sir Alex tried to offload Gibson and Kuszczak last summer. Currently, however, there are 13 clubs in the relegation zone in the Premier League. Martin O' Neill will have a transfer budget. Martin Jol, Roy Hodgson and others are on the lookout. Wigan always look for value. And so on.
The other consideration is who might be attractive by way of part-exchange. Berbatov, Ferdinand, Macheda and even the da Silva twins could fit that bill—especially in Italy or Spain.
The last time we looked at January targets, we went through the following thought process:
What do Manchester United need?
Who would be prepared to move?
Who would be eligible?
Who would be unavailable in January?
What nationality would fit best?
Who fits the United mould?
We'll apply the same criteria in selecting the twelve names who are realistic targets.