Kevin Strootman aside, it seems that Manchester United's two midfield priorities this season will be the Barcelona pair Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara. They are only likely to get one, however, since the Catalans will never sanction a move for both. Thiago's situation may technically be out of their hands owing to his release clause, but were Fabregas to depart, a new contract and the increased likelihood of getting games would see him all but certain to remain at the Camp Nou. United, therefore, have a choice to make.
The strengths of the two deals are fairly obvious. Cesc Fabregas is simply the ideal player for United - he brings drive, creativity, and goals from midfield - three things that have been desperately lacking at Old Trafford. In addition, he can slot comfortably in the middle of the pitch, in a position ahead of Michael Carrick and behind Shinji Kagawa or the deepest of the two strikers. He is, in many ways, the ideal signing.
Thiago, on the other hand, has just as much and perhaps arguably even greater potential, but he is not quite a perfect fit. It would be a risk to place him in the middle as he offers less bite and surety than Fabregas, although his playmaking abilities are not open to question. Nonetheless, he will find himself fighting Kagawa for his favoured role and one of the two is likely to be shunted out onto the wing. The advantage that he offers instead is value - £15m for a Spanish international midfielder who has the potential to be truly world-class. It seems a no-brainer.
The problem with this is the recent history in the association of 'Manchester United' and 'value.' The latter word alone brings back haunting memories of the midfield problem being put off for season after season under Alex Ferguson's "no value in the market" mantra. Now the capability and need to spend is greater, before retiring Ferguson backtracked, quite shamelessly claiming "of course, I meant for young players."
Now, people should be familiar with how the Glazer regime operates at Manchester United, but the assumption seems to have just been "United can't afford to spend as much as other big clubs" and ended there. This appears to be true, but it isn't. United have plenty of money to spend, it's just that the funds aren't released. Pointing out the difference may appear to be a pedantic one, but it has huge implications on the way the club go about their business, particularly in any summer likely to see multiple players in and out Old Trafford like this one.
Firstly, the money received by outgoing players is unlikely to have much bearing on the money being spent on incoming ones, or at least not directly. When £10m was suggested as the price Monaco would pay to secure Patrice Evra, the consensus was that it was a good deal for United. This is true, but hearing about the club getting more money than expected for a transfer or sponsorship deal cannot be taken as it would for, say, a Stoke City fan. Instead, United fans should treat it as if they overheard a stranger on the bus talking about getting a good deal on car insurance: good for him, but it won't impact your life whatsoever.
The idea of David Moyes having more to spend because a few million more has come in is preposterous. United are a financial behemoth, one of the most efficient and reliable money-printing machines in the business. They could outspend anyone in the Premier League without coming close to breaching a Financial Fair Play regulation if they wanted to. But as financial blogger @AndersRed puts it, "Almost every other major club in the world (Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid etc) reinvests all profits. Only Manchester United looks to maximise profits."
It should be obvious by now, but what this means is that necessity dictates the amount that will be spent, not available funds. An algorithm, how much it will take to ensure that United's reputation is retained through on-pitch performances of a certain quality, dictates transfer policy. Whether Monaco pay £2m or £200m for Evra does not factor into it.
In a roundabout way, this explains why Thiago Alcantara looks like less of an obvious deal and more of a second-choice. The distinction works both ways. Getting a good deal doesn't mean as much as it does to other clubs. Of course, the club will look to save money where possible, as is necessitated by the profit motive, but fans shouldn't care what fees are spent on incoming players, because the surplus is not there for alternative use.