If the transfer market was a nightclub, Manchester United would be standing nervously in the corner and checking their reflection in the glitter ball.
The DJ is pondering his last song, the lights are about to come on and the Red Devils are yet to make their move.
While rivals head off with the most attractive talent, United are still dithering on the dance floor. They look out of step and, increasingly, out of time.
Louis van Gaal has always been blessed with the gift of the gab but, with the new Premier League season just a week away, his magnetism is not having quite the desired effect.
Perhaps it's the lack of Champions League football or an uncertain squad in transition, but United can no longer dangle silver baubles or wave bulging wallets at potential bedfellows.
Manchester City are the cashed-up chieftains around town now, but even they have been strangely reluctant to reinvigorate their title-winning squad.
Manchester has been unusually quiet in the transfer market.
What's more, United and City's coyness has been amplified by the aggressive bartering and buying going on in London and Liverpool.
Like a generous birth-control policy, Chelsea and Arsenal seem content to stop at three (major players at least).
Alexis Sanchez, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy for the Gunners and Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis at Stamford Bridge are astute acquisitions with obvious roles to fill.
As always with Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool's spending policy looks like kids at a birthday party hitting a pinata repeatedly in the hope that something sweet and rewarding eventually comes their way.
But six significant additions, with a hint of more to come, at least offers an erratic statement of intent; a laudable attempt to build on last season's unexpected second-placed finish.
A quick glance at City and United, on the other hand, show far more names going out than coming in.
Manuel Pellegrini and van Gaal are removing salaries and slicing deadwood, but the dressing room turnstile is mostly one-way.
For City, Brazil's Fernando offers an obvious replacement for Gareth Barry; a combative defensive midfielder with plenty of Champions League experience, even if he isn't blessed with Fernandinho's proficiency around the opponents' penalty box.
Bacary Sagna faces a battle displacing the popular Pablo Zabaleta at right back, following a move that echoes Frank Lampard's unexpected loan swap to City. The deals are practically stamped "squad player" beneath the signature.
Pellegrini's progression from title winner to successful title holder might depend on further additions to his striking pool, considering Sergio Aguero has only just returned to training after his World Cup exertions and a long season disrupted by injury.
But City still return in a position of relative strength. United are the club in a hurry.
Van Gaal refused to elaborate on transfer targets earlier this week, claiming his comments inflated their price tag.
In all probability, his reticence masked his frustration. The Dutchman's first choices are stalling, leaving him sounding like Mick Jagger on a loop. You can't always get what you want.
Arturo Vidal's agent is under no illusion of his client's value to United and is holding out for enough cash to compensate for a year without Champions League competition.
Latest reports suggest £182,000 ($383,000) a week would be enough to help Vidal get over his loss.
Considering his central-midfield position has been mostly marked "vacant" at Old Trafford since 2008, his demands could prove a bargain.
Besides, if United are not quite "beggars", they are hardly "choosers" either.
Until van Gaal lives up to his self-proclaimed billing of being the Second Coming, he must rummage among the bargains bins in the hope of pulling out a Thomas Vermaelen before his use-by date.
In a dispiriting reversal of fortune, United are bluffing in a transfer game they know they cannot win with Arsenal. Arsene Wenger holds all the cards.
Eager to cast off the unwanted reputation of being a selling club, the Gunners manager isn't compelled to sell his defender unless the price is right. He wants Chris Smalling in part exchange (for reasons not entirely clear to dedicated United observers).
Maybe the Frenchman is savouring a rare moment of superiority over his old rivals, basking in his sudden boldness. Either way, he doesn't need to sell.
But van Gaal is desperate to buy. United cannot sustain a title challenge - or a 3-5-2 formation - with the current back three.
Their silver-tongued Red Devil must call upon his charm - and his chequebook - to reel in the talent before the lights are turned on for a new Premier League season.
Otherwise, United risk being left on the shelf.
This article was first published on Aug 9, 2014.
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