The Germany captain is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement with United, or fellow suitors Real Madrid, from 1 January having consistently rejected Bayern Munich's efforts to tie him to an extended contract at the Allianz Arena. Despite reports that the midfielder may resist any approaches until after next summer's World Cup, United are not prepared to risk losing their primary transfer target and will attempt to finalise a pre-contract deal in the new year.
Ferguson has confirmed that he will strengthen his squad at the earliest opportunity having been promised significant funds by the Glazer family. The need to reinforce a depleted squad will concentrate the United manager's efforts on players who are not tied to their employers by the lure of Champions' League glory. "I'm happy with the quality we have, but we're relying too much on our younger players at a time when we're missing the experience of Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Gabriel Heinze," Ferguson said.
"What I will be looking to do is increase the squad in January, but you have to dismiss the possibility of getting players from clubs who think they can win the Champions' League. That narrows down your options but we're playing the numbers game right now. It's numbers we're lacking, so that's what we'll be looking at in the transfer window."
Ferguson intends to overhaul his United midfield whether Keane goes through with his threat to leave Old Trafford next summer or not, with St Etienne's £8m-rated Didier Zokora another target.
The 34-year-old Keane's attack on his United colleagues has attracted support from David Beckham. "Roy is one of the best captains I have ever played with," said Beckham. "If any one of the Manchester United players I played with is going to be a manager, it's him. Managers need to scare players sometimes. Roy would do that."