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Man United have transfer window targets, but the clock is already ticking

If this is Jose Mourinho's pivotal transfer window at Manchester United, then it is off to a mixed start.

Antoine Griezmann was considered one of the club's top summer targets. But on Thursday it was revealed United had "cooled" their interest. A few hours later, the French forward tweeted "Now more than ever Atleti. All together."

It was interpreted as a commitment to the Spanish side and came hours after  the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Atletico's transfer ban for breaching FIFA rules on signing underage players.

Whether United's move to pull back or Griezmann's to stay came first is up for debate. Sources close to United have insisted their decision was based on the uncertainty surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic's future. A out-and-out No. 9 is now top of the list, rather than a No. 10.

And that much makes sense. Even if Ibrahimovic stays at Old Trafford, which is not guaranteed, he is unlikely to play again until the New Year. And it would leave Mourinho, already in charge of a team that does not score enough goals, without his main striker for at least five months.

It has prompted interest in Romelu Lukaku, Andrea Belotti, Alvaro Morata, Alexandre Lacazette and Kylian Mbappe.

But United have known about Ibrahimovic's injury for six weeks, which suggests there have been lingering doubts about where Griezmann would fit in. He boasts the scoring rate of a striker, averaging better than a goal every other game in his past three seasons, but he is not the physical target man Mourinho is used to. Lukaku or Morata are closer in profile to Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and, crucially, Ibrahimovic.

Mourinho and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward have been under pressure to sign new players from the moment the season ended. The Portuguese coach had a successful first campaign but he needs to challenge for the title.

It does not help that Manchester City, who also fell short in the league, have already committed to spending €77 million on Bernardo Silva and Ederson and are being linked with further big-money buys.

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are facing increased competition in the pursuit of elite players.

Mourinho has known his list of targets -- based on a system of having more than one for each position that needs strengthened -- since February. It was communicated to Woodward the following month, before a meeting in May finalised strategy.

United's boss would like the bulk of transfer business completed before the squad travel to the United States for their preseason tour . The players are due back at Carrington on July 8, which is just five weeks away. As such, United are already on the clock.

They were already expecting a tough transfer window; officials involved in the recruitment of players will tell you that it is very rare for any of the top 25 players in the world to become available.

So that leaves United and others to shop in the next tier down, looking at about 300 players. In the past they have had their pick but the extra revenue in the Premier League, thanks to an €8 billion television deal and a rise in billionaire owners, has increased competition.

It has made signing the right players tougher than ever. Even for the world's biggest clubs. Take Eric Dier, for example. Mourinho would like the England international in his midfield next season but, these days, Tottenham can resist big-money bids. They couldn't as recently as 2006, when United signed Michael Carrick.

"Here, everyone is powerful now," Mourinho told France Football in March. "The scenery has changed. If I want to buy a player from Tottenham, I can't. Nor can I buy a player from Manchester City or Arsenal. That was not the case before. At Chelsea, I brought in Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was the best player at Manchester City or Ashley Cole from Arsenal."

It makes picking up the best players from outside the Premier League's top seven or eight more important and United hope to land one in Michael Keane. The 25 percent sell-on clause in the defender's contract, agreed when he left Old Trafford for Burnley in 2015, makes the deal even more appealing.

There is also ongoing interest in Raphael Varane, but the difficulties in prising a player away from Real Madrid are obvious.

The same goes for Gareth Bale, another player admired at Old Trafford. United, though, would have one advantage in that particular pursuit if the Welshman decided it was time to move back to the Premier League. However, sources told ESPN FC as recently as May that Bale is happy in Madrid.

The Griezmann episode only serves to show how difficult a task Woodward and Mourinho face this summer. They need to find four players to help United challenge for the Premier League and Champions League next season, all of whom willing to move, and all of whom are at clubs willing to sell for a reasonable price.

There are a lot of variables and plenty of obstacles to overcome. Indeed, even after they're photographed on the pitch holding a scarf, they have to settle in and play well. Sure things aren't sure things. Just ask Louis van Gaal about Angel Di Maria.

There is a hope around Old Trafford that this is the summer that will propel the club back to where Sir Alex Ferguson left them. But they are already facing a race against time.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.


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