Cesc Fabregas has decided to remain at Barcelona. The midfielder, publicly courted by Manchester United for the past few weeks, has opted to remain at a club where he will be providing assists to Neymar and Leo Messi week after week.
All things considered, it's a good choice for the Spain international, though his comments -- to the effect that he had never seriously considered a move -- perhaps do Manchester United a slight disservice. Behind closed doors, he had expressed some interest, and the Old Trafford hierarchy will maintain that their efforts were worth the risk.
All the same, though, their efforts have left them without any new midfielders as the season approaches. In retrospect, the transfer of Fabregas began looking difficult as soon as Thiago Alcantara departed for Bayern Munich, removing one of his primary competitors for a starting position in the absence of Xavi. Their ambition in seeking to capture the world's very best playmakers is admirable, but the fact remains that they have gambled the house and so far ended up empty-handed.
So, where next? Whoever Manchester United seek to bring in as a creative central midfielder must offer more than Anderson, who has perennial fitness problems, and Tom Cleverley. The club have considered Yohan Cabaye, who has been looked over by some of the other very top Premier League clubs, but the France midfielder had a disappointing season last year and his stock is not so high as it once was.
Marouane Fellaini is being pursued separately, and -- whilst some fans will find him a prosaic purchase -- he would be a very wise signing, especially now. The problem is that most of the other players who might have been ideal for a role alongside Michael Carrick -- Juventus' Claudio Marchisio, or Bayern Munich's Luiz Gustavo, to name but a few -- have either gone elsewhere or been happy to sit tight.
At this point, somewhat unexciting as it is, Manchester United must concentrate not on signing flair players, but on strengthening their defensive midfield axis. After all, it's not as if Manchester United's problem last season was scoring goals. The issue, before Christmas at least, was that attackers were slicing through the heart of their midfield like a sword through blancmange. If the team wants creativity, then it will already have plenty of that from Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck, Nani, Wilfried Zaha and hopefully Adnan Januzaj.
Here's the thing: Carrick and Fellaini behind a trio of playmakers in a 4-2-3-1 is actually a very encouraging proposition on paper. It's just so much less thrilling than the vision on which everyone was initially sold. That's why the words of that terrific song by The Temptations spring to mind: "It was just my imagination/Once again... Running away with me."