United hope Dong will be worth weight in goals after permit delay

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The Independent Football

Manchester United strengthened their attack still further yesterday when they took receipt of the China international Dong Fangzhuo after a three-year wait for a work permit.

Dong, 21, signed for United from Dalian Shide in January 2004 but has spent the last two and a half years on loan with Belgian club Royal Antwerp while awaiting clearance from the Department of Employment to become the first Chinese player to appear for the Premiership leaders.

The athletic forward scored an impressive 35 goals in 61 games for Antwerp, United's feeder club, and also registered against Kaizer Chiefs during the Premiership outfit's pre-season tour of South Africa last summer, the only games he has been eligible to play for the club so far.

Now his patience has been rewarded with a new contract that will keep him at Old Trafford until 2010, the United number 21 shirt and a place in the senior squad alongside Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Henrik Larsson, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi.

"We're all excited he has eventually arrived and can start playing," said manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "He sacrificed two and a half years at Royal Antwerp, which showed great patience and determination. He is quick and athletic and he can only improve by training with the first-team squad here."

United, meanwhile, are waiting to discover whether Southampton are prepared to sell 17-year-old left-back Gareth Bale in this transfer window.

The Premiership leaders are believed to have offered around £5.5m for Bale but, with Tottenham also interested, the Championship club believe they can push the eventual price up towards the £10m bracket, albeit based on various incentives.

The Wales international has just 18 months remaining on his contract at St Mary's and, with his head turned by Old Trafford, will not commit to an extension, a situation that has forced Southampton to consider cashing in this month - but retain his services on loan until the end of the season - or risk selling him for a lower sum in the summer.

Bale's impressive defending - alongside a decent scoring ratio from free-kicks - has alerted the big clubs.