'Galactico' the missing piece for Van Gaal in Reds' jigsaw
Louis Van Gaal has said he spent a month in his "paradise in Portugal" this summer, sifting through the fallout of his first season as Manchester United manager and plotting a course to the Premier League title in his second campaign, but there remained a nagging sense of one glaring shortcoming in his team - a galactico.
The Dutchman had already decided to dispense with Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, but he had left a list of targets for executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to pursue.
Four have arrived, with the majority of the squad's problems solved, but Van Gaal has admitted that a 1-0 defeat at Chelsea in April, when Eden Hazard's goal settled a game dominated by United, proved a distraction on his sunlounger in Vale do Lobo.
And it continues to gnaw away at the Dutchman less than two weeks before the Premier League opener against Tottenham Hotspur. He needs a blue-chip player, a game-changer.
"Chelsea have Hazard," Van Gaal said. "He can always make goals, he can always make an action and decide a goal. They also have Willian and Oscar.
"Manchester City have [Sergio] Aguero, it's the same type. Barcelona have [Lionel] Messi, Neymar and [Luis] Suarez.
"We as Manchester United have to compete with these clubs, so we have to look also for that kind of player.
"You need creative players. You need that because you have to disorganise [teams who park] the bus and, next year, there might be more teams who are parking the bus, so we must look for more creativity."
When it was put to Van Gaal, speaking in a rare in-depth interview to the English media in his meeting room at San Jose's Fairmont Hotel, that he already possessed such creativity in his squad, he insisted that, for Manchester United, only the very best would do, even if Cristiano Ronaldo was out of reach at Real Madrid.
"No, you don't have a good vision I think," Van Gaal said. "We can use much more creativity.
"We have Wayne, Mata, Depay, Young, Januzaj, Wilson, Herrera. Young has had a fantastic season, but he is not a Neymar and we have to compete with that kind of class.
"When it is possible to buy, for a reasonable price, players from that level, we shall do that because they can contribute as they are better.
"Ronaldo? He may come, but it is not possible. Why not? Because you have the club [Real], Ronaldo and then you have Manchester United and how much Manchester United want to spend.
"With Morgan Schneiderlin, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, with Memphis Depay, with Matteo Darmian, we are better than last season. But we have to be much better and I say to you that means the creativity of my players in the front.
"At Chelsea, we didn't score and they scored and that is the difference in the game. If we had won that game, the gap would have been five points and the pressure was high [on Chelsea]."
United remain determined to add to their squad and Van Gaal's desire for a superstar may yet be satisfied.
Gareth Bale and Ronaldo would both be pursued vigorously if United were given encouragement from either player, but dealing with Real has proven to be a difficult process in the past and during this summer, with the bid for Sergio Ramos entwined with the complicated situation of David De Gea, Real's top target.
De Gea and Angel di Maria, the £59.7m signing set to leave for Paris Saint-Germain, were both subjects placed off-limits by Van Gaal before the interview, but he was happy to discuss selling Van Persie to Fenerbahce.
The pair, manager and captain during Holland's run to the World Cup semi-finals in Brazil last year, were once close, but Van Gaal insisted that it was a decision he had to make after the 31-year-old contributed just 10 goals last season.
"People have written that Van Persie is my favourite player and that I protect him, and yes, maybe, I have done that.
"But in the end, you always have to evaluate which players have contributed to our fourth place, which players a little bit and which players no contribution.
"And then you make decisions, but you make decisions on facts and not on other things. It is what we have experienced in the whole season with each other. You have to oversee all the aspects. But there is also the choice for Wayne Rooney.
"People have written all season that Rooney is a striker, but now you ask about Van Persie. I believe in refreshment of teams. You need that, to keep the spirit in the teams and also the challenge to be in the line-up and before my time here, it was not done like that."
Having spent £225m on new players since taking charge of United 12 months ago, the fourth-place finish last season will not be regarded as a success if the club repeat that this season.
Van Gaal admitted that his challenge now was to deliver the title before his contract expired in June 2017, but he conceded that, if he was successful in that pursuit, extending his stay at Old Trafford would not be out of the question.
"You never know," Van Gaal said. "I have already said to my wife [Truus] it might be that we extend in Manchester.
"But I also said to my wife that after 55 years I quit and I am still business and, in two weeks' time, I will be 64!
"I can walk away from it. I have already taken two sabbaticals. They were not for a year on either occasion, but it was very, very nice and it was not cats and dogs with my wife!
"I have a paradise in Portugal, so I can happily walk away from football and do other things, but I hope I shall end my career with the championship, of course.
"My personal aim is that I shall be a manager with four championships in four different countries and, in my opinion, the best countries of Europe. I know I can do that."
However, could he walk away in two years having failed to deliver the title? "That would be a pity. But then Manchester United shall fire me!"
For now, Van Gaal's position is secure. He has conducted an overhaul of the squad, with 10 players coming in and 17 senior players going out at last count, and the friendly win against Barcelona in California on Saturday highlighted the promise of his new signings and the return to form of youngsters such as Luke Shaw and Adnan Januzaj.