Football: United on the brink of pounds 50m shirt deal

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Manchester United are on the verge of agreeing a pounds 50m shirt sponsorship deal with the car company, Ford.

United's strip is up for grabs next season and they are about to announce a contract for the next five years with Ford after months of talks with leading companies. The agreement - to replace current long-term partners Sharp - is close to being finalised and should be revealed by the end of the month.

The deal will be the biggest in British football. The current Sharp contract was worth around pounds 7m in its last year - the new deal is close to a 50 per cent increase at pounds 10m per season. This is in addition to the six-year, pounds 60m, deal with Umbro to wear their shirts.

Ford have driven into pole position after hard bargaining with United's money men. The American company with big British connections want their name on the best known kit around. Coca-Cola have also been talking, but United insiders claimed last night that Ford were just about to beat them over the finishing line.

United originally lined up Ford among other huge concerns for a new idea of shared shirt sponsorship, making it less expensive and more appealing to the business community. However the car firm were not willing to pump in cash unless they were the main name associated with the club.

Ford are already one of the sponsors of the prestigious Champions' League, but teaming up with United is a massive commercial coup. They are already heavily involved with Sky Television's coverage of football and once tried to outbid Carling for the rights to have their name on the Premiership.

United's transfer target Marcelo Salas is set to sign for Lazio this week for pounds 13m. The Chilean striker will earn pounds 2m per season over four years to play in Italy's Serie A after Lazio came up with the fee that his club, River Plate, wanted.

The former United striker, Dion Dublin, has been the subject of "two substantial offers", according to his current club, Coventry City.

The Sky Blues chairman, Bryan Richardson, declined to name the interested clubs - but one of them is believed to be Middlesbrough. The First Division club have been alerted about the availability of Dublin since he turned down a pounds 3m contract worth pounds 16,000 a week over three and a half years. Their manager, Bryan Robson, has money to spend after off-loading Emerson to Tenerife for pounds 4.2m earlier this week.

"We have had considerable interest in Dublin from several clubs," Richardson said. "We have received two bids, which we will be considering shortly." Wimbledon, Crystal Palace and Leicester have also been linked with the player.