Ferguson targets young Spanish defender

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The Independent Football

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has made Barcelona's skilful young defender Gerard Piqué Bernabeu his first unexpected signing target for next season.

The outstanding teenager, known as Piqué, is captain of the national youth side but has yet to make his first-team debut for Barça, who are offering him a big deal to stay with them rather than go to England.

Ferguson is desperate to snap up the best youngsters in Europe and his agents are working on rapidly closing the deal for Piqué. United would have to pay Barcelona compensation, possibly as much as £3m, but it is a fraction of what the player would be worth once he is an established player.

Ferguson is keen to compete with Arsenal and Chelsea for the best young talent after losing out on several young players recently. The United manager knows Arsenal also want Piqué after taking Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona in a controversial deal a few months ago.

Chelsea took Arjen Robben out of their grasp and are also due to sign Anderlecht's Vincent Kompany, while Arsenal signed Robin van Persie this week. Piqué and the Belgian youngster Anthony van den Borre are the two young players Ferguson has set his sights on as players to build a team around for a decade to come.

Van den Borre is already in the full Belgian international squad at the age of 16 and with only a handful of first-team games under his belt. But United know if they wait too long for these players they will go elsewhere because of the competition at that level.

Chelsea have already done a deal to sign Kompany from Anderlecht in 2005. The 17-year-old centre-half was on United's list for months before they were outbid. The United manager knows his squad is growing older and he needs an influx of new talent. Piqué's signing could be the first of many significant buys for the future.

Meanwhile, United's chief executive, David Gill, said he has written to both Barcelona and Real Madrid to inform them that Ruud van Nistelrooy will not be sold, despite recent speculation. "We want to make it very clear to them what the position is and make sure the message gets through," he said. "We can't be any more specific. We've been categorical about this."