Manchester United have been linked with a number of top central midfielders, but who should Sir Alex Ferguson sign to challenge Manchester City next year?
Paul Scholes' five-month return was a success, and the midfield maestro has signed on for another season. But the Giggs-Scholes axis will be available for an ever decreasing number of games next season, and Ferguson is looking ahead to bring in a long-term replacement.
The Old Trafford side have the cash to bring in one of Europe's best, but will most probably look to avoid challenging Manchester City head-to-head in a transfer battle this summer.
With that in mind, GMF looks at five central midfielders who could be heading to Old Trafford in the near future.
Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) - Value = £37m
Sneijder would be most United fans' dream signing. A truly world-class player, the 27-year-old is in his prime, and currently pulls the strings for Inter Milan. The Italian side have played second fiddle to the likes of Juventus and AC Milan in recent seasons and after spells in La Liga and Serie A, the Dutchman could be interested in a move to the Premier League.
Ferguson was heavily linked with a move for Sneijder last year, but a reported £40m price tag and £250,000 a week wage demands put him off. A Dutch international since the age of 18, Sneijder has the pedigree and the reputation to step into the United midfield and make an immediate contribution. Granted, a move for the former-Real Madrid star wouldn't fit into Ferguson's philosophy of buying up-and-coming youngsters, but City's title win may force his hand.
Signing Sneijder would certainly send a statement of intent to their 'noisy neighbours'.
Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur) - Value = £35m-£50m
If Sneijder is the ultimate signing, Modric is a close second, and perhaps a more realistic target. The Spurs midfielder was close to leaving White Hart Lane last summer, with Chelsea the main suitors, but United could swoop this off-season.
Tottenham's unfortunate drop into the Europa League could prove costly not just in terms of TV money. Their top assets - notably Modric and Gareth Bale - may now grow restless in the absence of Champions League football and look for a move elsewhere.
A ready-made replacement for Scholes, Modric would be given the opportunity to initially form a formidable partnership with the United man. Experience of Premier League football and genuine world-class quality makes it a fairly risk-free signing, although once again the price tag could be an issue.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy would most likely demand at least £35m for the Croatian, which puts him more within reach of Chelsea or City. However, if Ferguson did decide to bite the bullet and pay the fee, he's unlikely to be regretting it a few years down the line.
Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese) - Value = £10m
Asamoah has been linked with United for much of the season, but Ferguson faces stiff competition for his signature from Juventus. The highly-rated Ghanian international was brilliant for Udinese this season and the Serie A champions are reportedly keen to keep the 23-year-old in Italy.
A bid of around £10m would test Udinese's resolve and Asamoah would be one of Ferguson's cheaper targets this summer. But cheapness shouldn't be confused with a lack of quality, as Asamoah possesses the dynamism and drive to be a success in the Premier League.
Asamoah, who has 39 caps for his country, moved to Udinese for £800,000 in 2009, and has flourished in their central midfield. But several clubs are circling, and Ferguson may look to bring the Ghanian to England before others steal in.
Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - Value = £7m
The most likely signing and possibly also the best value. Kagawa's contract runs out at the end of next season, and a £7m deal has been rumoured. The Japanese midfielder would immediately bring much-needed creativity to a United midfield that looked tired on occasion last year, but at 23 years old, he may need time to settle.
The Borussia Dortmund star only has 49 Bundesliga appearances to his name, but already has two league titles in his only season in Germany. Signed from the Japanese second division side Cerezo Osaka for only £280,000, Kagawa has earned a reputation as one of Europe's most exciting young talents.
The Japan international met with Ferguson following Dortmund's 5-2 German Cup demolition of Bayern Munich, and did say he's keen on a move to the Premier League. With Manchester United the only team strongly linked with the star, it looks as though Kagawa is the best bet to be Ferguson's first summer signing.
Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven) - Value = £15m-£20m
Strootman's rise has been rapid. The 22-year-old was a highly rated teenager with previous club Sparta Rotterdam but since moving to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in 2011, his career has taken off.
A box-to-box midfielder with an eye for a pass, Strootman quickly earned international recognition and already has 10 caps for Holland, alerting Europe's top clubs to his talents. Holland boss Bert van Marwijk rates the PSV player's vision and creative ability highly, and Strootman was called up to van Marwijk's Euro 2012 preliminary squad.
AC Milan are thought to be interested so Ferguson may face a battle if he wants to land the playmaker, and he wouldn't come cheap - a fee of around £15m-£20m would be required for PSV to even consider letting him go. But Strootman has the profile of a Manchester United player. He has the ability, the age and the price tag to make him an ideal Ferguson signing and he could be on his way to Old Trafford this transfer window.
Should he do so, the Dutchman can be relied upon to instantly improve the United midfield.
Who would you like to see United sign this summer? Join the debate by posting your ideal United centre midfield transfer target in the comments box below…
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