Ferguson closes on Benzema after £16m Valencia swoop

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The Independent Football

Manchester United were moving closer last night to signing French striker Karim Benzema from Lyons only hours after taking the first step towards replacing Cristiano Ronaldo by completing a deal for Wigan Athletic's Luis Antonio Valencia.

On the day that United announced the £16m signing of the Ecuador winger on a four-year contract, Miralem Pjanic, Benzema's team-mate at Lyons, claimed that the player was on the verge of a British record move to Old Trafford.

"Benzema is nearly gone to Old Trafford," Pjanic said. "The English club are willing to pay close to €45 million [about £38m]."

Valencia cut short his holiday to pass a medical at Old Trafford, becoming Alex Ferguson's first signing of the summer as he starts to spend his £80m windfall from Ronaldo's Real Madrid move.

The player has always made his desire to move to United clear and yesterday he said: "Joining Manchester United is a dream come true for me.

"I have enjoyed my time at Wigan, but I am thrilled to have the chance to challenge for the biggest honours in club football here. Playing in front of 76,000 fans alongside players like Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs will be an amazing experience. I can't wait to get started."

Ferguson last night admitted he has been tracking Valencia for some time but expressed his delight at seeing off competition from Real Madrid, as well as a late plea from new manager Roberto Martinez to stay at Wigan, to seal a move which he is believed to have been planning for more than six months.

United are also thought to be tracking Sergio Aguero, the Atletico Madrid forward, as well Sevilla's Brazilian, Luis Fabiano, but their hopes of landing Franck Ribery appear to be receding, with the Frenchman increasingly likely only to leave Bayern Munich for Madrid.