Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo
Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo both continue to be linked with transfers to Manchester United. Getty Images

Not so long ago, Manchester United were managed by a man who repeatedly complained of a lack of value in the transfer market and heavily favored making modest signings and attempting to mold them into stars at Old Trafford. But the more prudent days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign are now long since gone. It is ready-made global superstars that now dominate the shopping list of one of the world’s richest clubs.

Unfortunately for executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and manager Louis van Gaal, targeting those players and signing them have proven to be two radically different concepts. For at least the past 18 months, United have tried and failed to lure some of the sport’s biggest names to the club. And speculation suggests they are continuing their attempts as the January transfer window gets into gear.

It certainly seems likely that United will have had a keen eye on events at Real Madrid this week, where Rafael Benitez was replaced by Zinedine Zidane as the club’s manager. United have been strongly linked with both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale for some time. There have been plenty of reports that Bale is less than happy with Benitez’s departure, given that the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager had offered the Welshman the more central role he craves. And rumors in Britain suggest the change of coach could encourage United to step up their interest in the former Tottenham attacker.

Bale’s future looks set to be closely intertwined with that of Ronaldo’s, given the duo have struggled to both flourish in the same team. It has long looked possible that Ronaldo could leave the Bernabeu next summer, when he will have just two years remaining on his contract, especially as his relationship with Benitez thought to have been less than ideal. Zidane’s appointment would appear to make his position more secure, although The Telegraph reports that the Portuguese superstar is still likely to leave at the end of the season.

Even if that proves correct, bringing about his return to Old Trafford will prove no simple task, given that he has been keenly linked with Paris Saint-Germain.

Manchester United’s pursuits of the world’s best do not end there. Reports in both France and Britain have this week claimed that the Premier League club are prepared to meet the 190 million euros (£142 million) buyout clause of Barcelona star Neymar. Speculation over the Brazilian’s future has centered on the fact that he has yet to sign an extension to a contract that this summer will have only two years left to run. Still, as with Bale and Ronaldo, there is almost zero chance that any transfer would happen in January. And even in the summer, luring Neymar away from a club where he has enjoyed incredible personal and team success will prove an arduous task.

If they are to improve their struggling squad in January, Manchester United will have to turn their attention toward more modest targets. One of those appears to be Southampton forward Sadio Mane. Yet having tried and failed to land the Senegal international last summer, there are claims that another approach has now been knocked back. Mane’s future had been the subject of fresh speculation after he was late for a team meeting and subsequently left out of the lineup for Saturday’s fixture with Norwich City.

That could mean United focusing on another rumored target, Felipe Anderson. The 22-year-old winger rose to prominence last season, with 10 goals in Serie A, and Lazio sporting director Igli Tare has sparked more rumors over his future by suggesting that no player was unsellable. Still, it would be a huge surprise were United to pay a reported £45 million fee for a player who remains inconsistent, meaning considerable negotiation is likely to be required.