London (AFP) - With less than 24 hours until the transfer window slams shut, Manchester United once again find themselves playing the unwanted role of the panicked Christmas shopper who realises he's left it too late to buy the presents he wanted.
Despite splashing out £150 million ($230 million) on new signings during his first season in charge and then spending nearly £80 million on Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Matteo Darmian in recent months, United manager Louis van Gaal is still unhappy with the make-up of his squad.
Frustrated at missing out on several of his top targets, the Dutchman has been left with an unbalanced group heavy on midfielders, but short on quality support for star striker Wayne Rooney, lacking a world-class central defender and missing a top goalkeeper to replace Real Madrid-bound David de Gea.
United's design flaws, which threaten to leave van Gaal's side lagging behind Premier League pace-setters Manchester City, were on full display in their 2-1 defeat at Swansea on Sunday.
And that has thrown the spotlight on United's slap-dash approach to their recruitment.
The main complaints have focused on United's beleaguered executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Charged with delivering the signings that van Gaal desires, the 43-year-old has struggled to fulfil the Dutchman's wishes, reviving memories of his chaotic introduction to the role in the first days of David Moyes' miserable reign in 2013.
Back then bold talk of a marquee signing ended with rebuffed approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas and the far less inspiring sight of Marouane Fellaini pulling on a United shirt.
This time around, Woodward has suffered the embarrassment of flying to Spain to conclude a deal for Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez, only to discover the Spain winger had decided to join Chelsea instead.
- Browbeaten -
Faced with de Gea's determination to force through a transfer to Real, Woodward has tried to play hardball over his wish for a £33 million fee, but reports on Monday suggested agent Jorge Mendes has browbeaten him into letting the Spaniard, who has only a year left on his contract, leave for much less, albeit with replacement keeper Keylor Navas said to be included in the deal.
Woodward's failure to land Real defender Sergio Ramos, who was considering a move to United in the close-season, has left another gaping hole in van Gaal's rearguard.
Meanwhile the sales of Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez, as well as the loan exit of Adnan Januzaj, have left the squad bereft of options to ease the burden on Rooney, who has endured an inconsistent start to the season.
In response, van Gaal and Woodward offered a reported £36 million for Monaco's French striker Anthony Martial, even though the raw teenager scored just nine league goals last season.
Making it all the more galling, across Manchester, City have recently swooped for Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, the kind of dynamic ascending talents that could tip the balance in the title race -- just as former boss Alex Ferguson used to do when he brought in the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo.
The autocratic van Gaal had previously defended Woodward, but even he showed signs of irritation at United's incoherent transfer policy when grilled after the Swansea loss.
"You can never speak as a club like Manchester United that you are satisfied because it is a process," he said.
"We know already in advance what is happening and what is not happening. It's a process and I cannot change that."
Unfortunately, the clock is ticking ever closer to Tuesday's 1700GMT deadline, leaving van Gaal and Woodward little time to get those presents wrapped.