​Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward apparently wanted to sign Raphael Varane and Marco Veratti to bolster the spine of the team last year, before the club eventually moved for Fred and Diogo Dalot.

United's executive vice-chairman had earmarked Real Madrid centre-back Varane and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti back in 2018 when he was still in charge of recruitment strategy at Old Trafford.

José Mourinho was manager at the time, and according to the ​Manchester Evening News he dismissed those names out of hand, deeming them unattainable.

Fred,Jose Moutinho

Instead, the ​Red Devils moved from Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian midfielder Fred and Portuguese full-back Diogo Dalot of Porto for a combined £72.5m in an underwhelming window. Both players have struggled for game time and form since arriving in Manchester.

Verratti shares his agent Mino Raiola with Paul Pogba, while United have a longstanding interest in boyhood supporter Varane, who they wanted to sign in 2011 before turning to Phil Jones after losing out to Real.

However, technical chief scout Mike Court is the man who reportedly pushed for Fred's signature having analysed United's options in the central midfield area, while a number of top-level centre backs were shortlisted in 2018 but no transfers ever came to fruition.

Marco Verrati

The list included Leicester's Harry Maguire, Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, Milan Skriniar of ​Inter, former ​Atlético ​Madrid captain Diego Godin and ​Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng as more senior options, while Benfica's Ruben Dias and Nikola Milenkovic of Fiorentina were put down as less experienced choices.

Mourinho was also interested in ​Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld but Woodward was reluctant to negotiate with notoriously tricky Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

Ultimately, the centre-back area wasn't reinforced until United brought in Harry Maguire a year later for a whopping £80m, a transfer that followed their worst top-flight defensive season in 40 years as they conceded 54 goals in the Premier League and finished sixth.

Harry Maguire

And even that expenditure hasn't remedied their defensive woes. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have conceded 11 goals in as many games already this season, losing four times in the process to leave them wallowing in mid-table.