Real close in on Van Nistelrooy

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The Independent Football

Manchester United's FA Cup final against Millwall in Cardiff this afternoon could see the last appearance by Ruud van Nistelrooy in a United shirt. Real Madrid will step up their pursuit of the Dutch international striker next week and are poised to tempt United with a a new and improved bid of £35m. Real are confident that United will accept the offer.

Manchester United's FA Cup final against Millwall in Cardiff this afternoon could see the last appearance by Ruud van Nistelrooy in a United shirt. Real Madrid will step up their pursuit of the Dutch international striker next week and are poised to tempt United with a a new and improved bid of £35m. Real are confident that United will accept the offer.

Insiders at both clubs say that Real have been talking with United for weeks and are now prepared to offer a fee that United may consider just too good to refuse. The Spanish club believe they badly need another goalscorer. The dip in form of Raul, and Ronaldo's injuries, have left them wishing they had not loaned out Fernando Morientes to the Champions' League finalists, Monaco.

Van Nistelrooy's sale would be controversial, but at £35m the United hierarchy may feel it is good business. The Dutchman's style has been the subject for debate inside Old Trafford. In the absence of Van Nistelrooy, Sir Alex Ferguson could choose to play two up front, although he would have to buy a major new partner for Louis Saha. Ferguson is understood to have two main targets for that job, with Atletico Madrid's brilliant youngster, Fernando Torres, and the Marseille forward, Didier Drogba, heading his list. United have made approaches for the players, who are both strong and powerful target men. Atletico have said no, but Marseille may yet be persuaded if there is a £15m bid.

Ferguson and United officials would be happier to wait until they have lined up Van Nistelrooy's replacement, but it is an open secret in Europe that they are trying to sign another striker.

United's move for Leeds United's Alan Smith is now also seen in a different light. The hard-working young striker could not be expected to take over from the prolific Dutchman. Smith would be the "extra" forward in their squad, understudying the two main men in the role Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Diego Forlan have filled.

Millwall, United's opponents in Cardiff this afternoon, are hoping that Dennis Wise, their player-manager, will have recovered from his leg injury in time to play for the First Division team. Wise travelled to Italy earlier this week to seek treatment for the injury.

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