Ferguson plugs hole with £2m Van der Sar

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson's search for a reliable first-choice Manchester United goalkeeper continued yesterday when the Old Trafford club made Fulham's veteran Dutch international Edwin van der Sar their first new signing of the Malcolm Glazer era.

Sir Alex Ferguson's search for a reliable first-choice Manchester United goalkeeper continued yesterday when the Old Trafford club made Fulham's veteran Dutch international Edwin van der Sar their first new signing of the Malcolm Glazer era.

The club are understood to have paid around £2m for the 34-year-old - they have a policy of not disclosing any fee less than £5m - but the promptness of his acquisition has been designed to show that the club's new owners are prepared to back their manager.

The initial discussions on team affairs between club officials and the Glazer family have impressed upon the Americans the need to strike early in the transfer market for a new goalkeeper. The details of Van der Saar's move were sealed while he prepared with the Netherlands team for Saturday's 2-0 World Cup qualifier victory over Romania and he will not be able to undergo the medical for his two-year deal until after Wednesday's match against Finland.

He recently signed a contract extension at Fulham until next year, which has enabled his club to earn a fee for him.

United sources have indicated that they expect Van der Sar, who will be installed as No 1, to help develop the American goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose progress has stalled since his arrival two years' ago. Despite worries over Howard's form, his deal has been extended to 2009 while United have released the out-of-contract Roy Carroll and Ricardo Lopez, and will promote the academy graduate Tommy Heaton to third choice.

Van der Saar will earn his 100th international cap against Finland and will make his United debut on the first game of their tour of the Far East on 23 July, against a Hong Kong XI. He joined Fulham from Juventus in 2001 after the Italian side demoted him from the No 1 spot by signing Gianluigi Buffon. Although Fulham were regarded as an unusual choice for a goalkeeper of such a reputation, at the time the Dutchman was determined to leave Italy.

He was bought during Mohamed al-Fayed's period of heaviest investment in the Fulham team and has been credited with helping the Craven Cottage side survive in the Premiership, especially last season.

His arrival is the first sign that the Glazers are prepared to listen to the requirements that Ferguson has for his squad, although the real scope of their financial plans is not likely to be disclosed to the chief executive David Gill for a couple of weeks.

Next Monday, Glazer's offer period to shareholders closes and soon after he will have to disclose how much of Manchester United he owns. The board's three independent directors, including the chairman Sir Roy Gardner, are then expected to resign and be replaced with Glazer's sons, Joel and Avi.

The signing of Van der Sar suggests that there is more room for manoeuvre in the transfer market than Gill first suggested when United made an unplanned £27m move for Wayne Rooney last summer.

They are still far from being able to compete with Chelsea for the best players in the world, but another target that is being seriously considered by Ferguson is PSV Eindhoven's South Korean midfielder Park Ji Sung.

The 24-year-old was brought to the Netherlands by the PSV coach Guus Hiddink, who led the South Korea side to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup. Park is regarded as a versatile midfielder who has distinguished himself in PSV's run to the Champions' League semi-finals and only has one year left on his contract.

The first major signing of the transfer window should mean a wave of movement through the market, with Derby County's promising young goalkeeper Lee Camp a natural target for Fulham.

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