Ballack to decide club future by December

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The Independent Football

The Germany captain's contract expires in the summer and he is due to let the Bundesliga club know at the end of this month whether he is prepared to sign a new, lucrative four-year deal.

Although the Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has not given up hope of persuading the 29-year-old to stay in Munich, the odds remain on Ballack leaving and the general manager Uli Hoeness has already admitted that he fears the worst.

United, Real Madrid and both Milan clubs are thought to be monitoring the situation and there has been speculation that if Ballack declares his intention to quit, Bayern may decide to sell during the January transfer window.

However, the player's agent, Michael Becker, claimed that Ballack had not yet decided where his long-term future lies and insisted he would be going nowhere until after this summer's World Cup.

"There is no chance of Michael leaving in January," Becker said. "It just would not make sense. First, it would cost him any chance of winning the Champions' League this season, which is the prime motivation for the remainder of his career. Secondly, what would be the point of Bayern selling him because they could make more in Champions' League prize money with him in the team than they would in a transfer fee given he only has six months left on his contract. And thirdly, why would he want to leave Germany such a short time before he is due to captain them in the World Cup?"

Although no precise date has been set for the meeting at which Ballack will give Bayern his final decision, tantalisingly, Becker did admit that the midfielder may offer an indication about his preferred destination at the same time.

"I think Michael will either say he is staying, or he will say he is leaving and would like to join a particular club," he said. "I must stress, Michael has spoken to no one about his future yet and has certainly not spoken to any other club about his plans."

If Ballack opts to leave, Ferguson is likely to move quickly in his attempts to lure Ballack to England. With Keane due to leave Old Trafford next summer and relations between the United captain and his manager strained over the Irishman's MUTV interview, the need for a replacement is acute. Apart from Ballack, Ferguson has also been linked with a move for Ajax's Dutch international midfielder Nigel de Jong and also the former Everton player Thomas Gravesen, who has failed to establish himself as a first-team regular at Real Madrid.

Ferguson remains convinced that the Premiership leaders Chelsea can be caught, after his side ended the Londoners' 40-match unbeaten run. "One thing we have done is given the whole division hope," Ferguson said.