Real Madrid will offer £35m for the Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo this summer, according to sources close to the club's sporting director, Pedrag Mijatovic.
The Spanish side expect United to stonewall advan-ces for their biggest asset but are banking on the player's head being turned by the prospect of becoming the club's biggest signing since the capture of Zinedine Zidane from Juventus in 2001 and the prospect of replacing David Beckham, not just on the pitch but off it as the new face of Real.
A £35m deal would be the third biggest of all time, behind Zidane's £44m move and Luis Figo's £37m switch from Barcelona to Real.
Ronaldo, who will be 22 in February, appeared to have one foot in the Bernabeu last summer when, after clashing with Wayne Rooney at the World Cup, he became English football's public enemy No 1. While still in Germany with the Portuguese team, he was alleged to have offered his services to the then Real Madrid presidential candidate Juan Miguel Villar Mir, who promised to sign him if he won the election.
Ronaldo was quoted as saying: "I have told my agent I am prepared to leave. I want to do it in the best manner possible. I want to play for Real and dream of doing so. I have gone with Villar Mir's project because it is serious and follows correct procedures. They have explained to me their plans and the next step is they will talk to Manchester United."
Villar Mir lost the election, however, and Ronaldo flew back to Manchester to patch up his differences with Rooney. The fact that he has performed for United so superbly has only heightened Madrid's interest in a player whose current deal runs to 2010, and a source close to Mijatovic said last night: "The club have decided to make an offer for Ronaldo that will be very difficult to refuse".
Ronaldo's former United team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy believes that if the player decides he wants to move, that will have a greater bearing on the situation than United's reluctance to sell.
"If the player is aware of the situation and doesn't want to stay [at Old Trafford] anymore, then anything can happen," he said. "United definitely won't give up Ronaldo very easily. But it's also in the player's hands. That will make a massive impact on the situation."
Van Nistelrooy said he would welcome Ronaldo's arrival despite the pair's differences in the past. He said: "There wasn't much that happened between us in Manchester. It was all blown up a bit. There were a lot of lies said about it. He's a fantastic player. This is his best season so far at United.
"He's scoring a lot of goals and playing very well. He's still very young but physically and technically he has everything. It's a situation for Madrid and United to sort out. We have a great squad but great players are always welcome."Reuse content