Jose Mourinho had decided to strengthen his forward line long before Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered the knee ligament injury that ended his season.
In a cramped corridor at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium, the Manchester United manager told a small group of reporters that United were not “clinical” enough. That was in January.
He was speaking after another 1-1 draw.
Wayne Rooney had salvaged a point with a stoppage time free-kick that had moved him onto 250 goals for the club, surpassing the record Sir Bobby Charlton had held for 44 years.
But Mourinho was not talking about the Stoke game in isolation.
He had already seen United dominate home games against Stoke, Burnley, Arsenal and West Ham without taking enough chances to win. The problem, he said, was goals. It has been the same story all season.
Ahead of the summer transfer window, it has led Mourinho’s conversations with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, head of global scouting Marcel Bout and head of player performance John Murtagh to be dominated by attacking players.
Sources have told ESPN FC, United are hoping to sign a defender, possibly Michael Keane, and a holding midfielder, which could be Tiemoue Bakayoko. But the bulk of the money will be spent on players who can create, and score, goals.
James Rodriguez is under consideration because he can do both, and United officials have already been informed he is available to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season.
It would make a deal that little bit less complicated — an appealing thought when faced with a summer of difficult negotiations with players, clubs, agents and intermediaries.
Things have already changed. Mourinho admitted last month that his transfer plans have had to be altered following the injuries to Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.
Ibrahimovic’s absence is the biggest issue.
There is still doubt about whether the Swedish striker will be at Old Trafford at all next season. But even if he stays, he is unlikely to available until at least January.
It leaves Mourinho with the problem of replacing the top scorer on a team that already does not score enough goals.
Antoine Griezmann is another variable. He has long been earmarked as United’s marquee signing this summer. But there is a growing feeling at United that it is going to be a difficult transfer, even if they secure Champions League football and meet the Frenchman’s buyout clause in his Atletico Madrid contract.
Mourinho has already told Woodward he does not want to chase “impossible” deals.
Then there is Griezmann’s role with the team. He is not a Mourinho-style centre forward like Ibrahimovic or Didier Drogba.
Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata or Andrea Belotti are closer fits, although there are questions about whether any one is the “one chance, one goal” striker Mourinho is looking for.
Griezmann could play anywhere across the front line. But that would remove the need to sign Rodriguez — especially with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard already on the squad.
Rooney and Adnan Januzaj are expected to leave. There are doubts about Martial’s long-term future, too, after a season when Mourinho has often found reason to criticise him.
United’s interest in Rodriguez has not gone any further than a request to be kept updated on his situation. There is, though, an acknowledgment that the 25-year-old is capable of scoring 10 to 15 goals a season to supplement other goalscorers. It is something United have missed.
Rodriguez, who cost Real Madrid €63 million when he joined from Monaco in 2014, is viewed as a player who could improve the team, but only if the circumstances are right.
At United’s end, there is not expected to be any formal movement on transfers until the season is over. That Mourinho’s side have scored 24 fewer goals than champions-elect Chelsea tells it’s own story of United’s season.
In five games away from home against the rest of the top seven, they have scored once — Ibrahimovic in a 1-1 draw at Everton on Dec. 4. It does not sound like a team that is ready to challenge for the title next season.
Mourinho is hoping to turn United from also-rans into front-runners over the course of the summer. And he will start by finding a solution to the problem that has dogged his debut campaign.