Ferguson eyes Viduka to share striker's role

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, is ready to make an official £5m offer for the Leeds striker Mark Viduka when the transfer window opens in January.

Ferguson is interested in acquiring the skilful but erratic Australian as he looks for variety in his attack. Viduka would be the most controversial signing Ferguson has made since Eric Cantona made the same trip across the Pennines a decade ago, but despite his temperament, which caused clashes with the former Leeds manager Peter Reid, Viduka has so much talent that he appeals to Ferguson.

Viduka's reputation for being awkward will not put off Ferguson, who took Cantona under his wing and tried for the maverick Paolo Di Canio. United are worried that Ruud van Nistelrooy is struggling with his lone striker's role. For all of Diego Forlan's goals the Uruguayan is still seen as a squad player.

Viduka, who lead the line as well as hit the target, would bring more options and comes with the added bonus that he can play in the Champions' League. United have made contact with Leeds and are hoping that their financial problems will make the deal easier to push through next month.

West Ham's Jermain Defoe and Fulham's Louis Saha have also been considered, but are young and lightweight compared to Viduka. Ferguson has always insisted he would be reluctant to bring in anyone who was cup-tied for the Champions' League, which appears to rule out a move for Manchester City's Nicolas Anelka because the £20m-rated Frenchman turned out for the Blues in this season's Uefa Cup.

While big names such as Rivaldo, Alan Smith and Viduka are all likely to be available in January, they may not take too kindly to the prospect of acting as understudy to Van Nistelrooy.

Meanwhile, Ferguson has confirmed that Paul Scholes has been pencilled in for a return to action within the next seven days, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is due back after knee surgery early in the New Year.

When deciding whether to enter the transfer market, Ferguson must also weigh up his defensive options. Despite the belief of some within Old Trafford that Rio Ferdinand will not receive a ban for his failure to take a drugs test in September, his two-day FA hearing in Bolton later this month may well result in some kind of suspension.

His fellow England international Wes Brown is an obvious replacement but he would be making his first appearance since his summer cruciate ligament operation if he turns out for United's reserves against West Brom on Thursday as scheduled, and Ferguson would want assurances over his fitness before heading into the second half of the campaign without bringing in extra cover.

Ryan Giggs' frustration with footballing authorities could increase on Thursday as Uefa, the European governing body, investigate an alleged elbowing incident in Wales' Euro 2004 play-off with Russia. The United winger is still angry at the FA's decision to fine him £7,500 for his part in the "Battle of Old Trafford" against Arsenal in September and is still considering whether to appeal.

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