Ferguson wins race for £1m Dons prospect

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Manchester United completed a £1m move for the Wimbledon youngster Lee Martin yesterday, paying an initial £200,000 for the 16-year-old midfielder, who was also being courted by Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, with further payments due if he makes the progress anticipated.

Martin was spotted by Sir Alex Ferguson playing for the Dons' under-17 and under-19 sides. He featured as a substitute in the Dons' reserve team for the first time against Southampton in October and has already appeared for the England Under-17s, against Switzerland in November.

Ferguson will hope the teenager has similar success to Lee Sharpe, whom he picked up in similar fashion from Torquay more than a decade ago and who went on to become an England international.

Wimbledon will initially receive £200,000 for the transfer, and the fee will gradually rise depending on Martin's success as a Red Devil. The money will come as a massive boost to the Dons, who are in administration. Their controversial move to Milton Keynes has had a mixed start, and they are bottom of the First Division despite showing some signs of progress since leaving Selhurst Park.

Chelsea have revealed that they would be prepared to spend £60m on Ruud van Nistelrooy if the Dutchman became available - and up to £100m on a single player if the need arose.

Chelsea's acting chief executive, Paul Smith, said a central defender and a midfielder are the club's main priorities when the transfer window opens next month. But Chelsea would also clearly be interested if the right striker became available after their £50m approach for Thierry Henry was rebuffed by Arsenal last week.

Chelsea seem to have accepted that Henry is not for sale, even for £50m, but Smith does not discount the possibility of the Blues setting a world transfer record if a player of the calibre of Van Nistelrooy became available.

The Manchester United striker is in negotiations with his club about a new contract designed to keep him out of Real Madrid's reach, butUnited could now face another rival for the Dutch forward if he ever considers leaving Old Trafford. Van Nistelrooy insisted in a recent interview that he "loves it" at Old Trafford, but he also stated - when asked about Real's interest - that "everything is possible" in football.

Smith said yesterday: "If Pele was on the market today for £100m then we'd maybe go for him, but we won't pay £30m for Joe Nobody. If Ruud van Nistelrooy was priced at £60m and we considered it a good investment, then we would probably pay that. It's not about the fee but about getting good value."

While Smith may have been merely using Van Nistelrooy as an example, his decision to name the player is hardly likely to help relations with Old Trafford. Smith, after all, is only in his post until Chelsea reach agreement with United on when Peter Kenyon can join them as their new chief executive after luring him from the Premiership champions.

Smith nevertheless stressed that although the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, has already spent more than £100m on new players - and is prepared to carrying on spending - he will not pay over the odds.

Rumours have recently surrounded another United stalwart, Nicky Butt, who was reported to be unsettled after losing his place in the side, but Butt said yesterday he does not want to leave United.

Butt, who has started only nine games for United this season and was an unused substitute in Saturday's Manchester derby win, said: "I want to stay at Manchester United. People have been saying I want to leave, which is not true. I said I am not happy when I'm not playing, which would be the same for any player at any club, and it has been blown out of all proportion. There have been no rows with the manager.

"I know I can't expect to be in the England squad next summer if I don't play all season ... I have to keep digging away. Hopefully I will get my chance."

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