Barcelona's new coach, Gerardo Martino, has said that a third Manchester United bid for Cesc Fábregas – whatever its value – would be rejected, a statement that may leave David Moyes's summer transfer strategy in crisis. After making the midfielder his prime target, the United manager is close to entering the window's final month having yet to make a major signing.
If United are to buy Fábregas it may require the former Arsenal captain to make a transfer request to force it through. The champions are convinced he wants to leave but whether Fábregas can face making an official demand to depart his boyhood team remains to be seen, and even then it may not shift Barça's position.
With the Catalan club having lost Thiago Alcântara to Bayern Munich, they are loth to allow another of their attacking midfielders to go. United have had bids of £26m and £30m rejected and, it seems, even a club record £35m offer would not make the Spanish champions reconsider.
On Thursday Moyes said that negotiations were "ongoing" for the 26-year-old, suggesting that the pursuit of Fábregas would continue a while longer and could yet have a positive outcome for United. Martino, however, made it clear that in his view Fábregas will remain at Barcelona next season. In a first press conference since succeeding Tito Vilanova as coach, Martino said: "I'm not going to involve myself in the club's accounts, but considering the club has already rejected two offers, I would guess it will reject a third. In other words, Fábregas will remain here."
The Argentinian's stance was reiterated by the Barcelona vice-president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who said: "It's logical that we've had offers for Fábregas because he is a quality player, but he is not for sale. Whatever offer United make, however big, we will say no. Cesc Fábregas will stay a Barcelona player. That United shows interest in Cesc Fábregas is normal. He is a truly great player. It doesn't annoy us.
"It gives us pride to have such a good player in our team that United want him because they are a great club. But whatever offer arrives from them we are not going to sell Cesc Fábregas. We are counting on him. I think Tata [Martino] was clear that he is counting on him as a player and Andoni Zubizarreta [the director of football] from the first day when we asked him about it saying there was an offer he replied Cesc is not for sale. We are very happy with him."
United still retain an interest in signing Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, though the current view at the club is that the chances of landing either are remote. Other options for Moyes include Everton's Marouane Fellaini, Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle United. Yet none of these players are the stellar signing the new manager and Ed Woodward, the chief executive, crave to give the Scot the best chance of a successful start to his tenure as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor. Woodward flew back to Europe from Sydney during United's pre-season tour to try and force through the purchase of Fábregas and is keen to deliver a marquee signing to Moyes in his new role as head of the club's transfer business.
Following United's 2-2 draw with Cerezo Osaka in the penultimate match of their tour, Moyes has a fresh injury concern over Jonny Evans that will rule the defender out of Monday's final game against Kitchee FC in Hong Kong.
He said: "Jonny has a bit of bone bruising in his foot and just felt it's not really improved that much. We don't want to take any chance with it."
Moyes currently has Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, Nani and Antonio Valencia all back at the club's Carrington training base in recovery from their respective injuries.