Real challenge United for Ronaldinho

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Real madrid have joined the race for Ronaldinho, to give Manchester United some competition. But better news from United was a statement from Joan Laporta, presidential candidate at Barcelona, distancing him from talk of buying David Beckham.

Real have made contact with Ronaldinho's advisers after learning of his mooted £9m move to Old Trafford, a bargain price in their eyes. The Brazilian has told Paris St-Germain he wants to move and Real's interest will only make him more eager to push for a transfer.

Real had been linked with Beckham, but pulled away partly because of the price. Buying Ronaldinho for a third of Beckham's price would seem like good business. Even if the price goes up in an auction between Real and United, it would still be short of the valuation attached to Beckham.

United could miss out on Ronaldinho and be left waiting on Laporta winning the election and raising funds to buy the England captain. Laporta is trailing the favourite Lluis Bassat in the election.

Real's interest in Ronaldinho would also mean that the Bernabeu becomes an even less likely place for Beckham to play next season, so he could be stuck at Old Trafford knowing United were willing to sell him.

Laporta went on the defensive yesterday.He said: "I have never said 'I am going to buy Beckham'. Those words appeared in an English newspaper and I deny them. We are not going to enter the dynamic of giving names, but I reserve the option to say more at an opportune moment."

He added: "Our project has a coach [rumoured to be Guus Hiddink], a technical secretary and signings, some of them verbal and some of them firm."