Should United be able to persuade their Dutch striker to move to Lyon - and the 29-year-old clearly sees himself as worthy of a bigger club - then Ferguson could be allowed to bid for Mahamadou Diarra, the Mali midfielder he has long coveted. The 24-year-old has long been viewed by United as a leading contender to succeed Roy Keane, but the club have been unable to convince Lyons to do a deal.
In the first sign yet that Lyons would be prepared to part with their prize asset in order to get Van Nistelrooy, Bernard Lacombe, the special advisor to the club's president, Jean-Michel Aulas, said that they were interested in the Dutch striker. "It would be complicated financially but one option would be to do an exchange with a player Manchester are interested in like Diarra."
Rated at £24m, Diarra was Michael Essien's midfield partner until the Ghanaian was sold to Chelsea last summer. He fits the bill of a destructive, powerful central midfielder and it is understood that Ferguson is considering watching him play against Le Mans in the last game of the season today.
Diarra would be the latest in a long line of midfielders who Ferguson has bought to try to replace Keane's influence and he will have to be certain that Diarra is the right man if he is to stake the value of Van Nistelrooy upon securing him.
* The Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given has signed a new five-year contract with the club.