United insist Dutch striker is not for sale 'at any price'

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The Independent Football

Peter Kenyon, the Manchester United chief executive, yesterday warned off Chelsea from bidding for Ruud van Nistelrooy by insisting the striker was not for sale.

With money seemingly no object for the new Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, Kenyon said the Dutch striker, who cost £19m two years ago and scored 44 goals last season, would not be leaving Old Trafford.

"Clearly Ruud is not for sale at any value from our point of view," Kenyon said. "He is an essential part of our squad and is one of those players who is not for sale.

"Even if Chelsea came up with a ridiculous offer I think the answer would still be no. We have to look at it in terms of where our squad is and the investments we have made, and clearly what ultimately drives all our business and all our activities is the football team and its success. You couldn't replace a Van Nistelrooy - there isn't another one around."

Chelsea have not made a move for Van Nistelrooy, but have been linked with the United midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, although Kenyon said no official approach had been made.

"The official line is he is with us, he is on tour, he is training and we've not had any official approaches," he said. "It is not something we've addressed because there has been no offer and... we have not put him on the market."

Reports yesterday indicateda deal would be confirmed within the next seven days, but Veron appears to have decided that now that the former United transfer target, Ronaldinho, has signed for Barcelona, he will stay.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said: "Earlier on a situation arose where there was a chance for Juan to go to another club. Maybe it was a good thing he didn't because I have always been happy with him."

Chelsea have also been linked with Raul, with Abramovich reportedly sanctioning a world-record £71m bid for the Real Madrid striker, although the player says he has no intention of moving. Kenyon described the rumour as "mind-boggling".

"Manchester United is recognised as one of the most profitable football clubs and businesses in the industry and we certainly couldn't pay that," he said. "In any case, the market in the last 18 months has been pretty depressed and prices have fallen for key players as well as a general decline in overall salaries - and that is good for the industry.

"I just don't see us reaching those levels again for an awful long time - it is not something we can contemplate. Chelsea's reported bid for Raul is mind-boggling and I wonder how much of this is truth because £71m is something you can't even contemplate getting a return on."

After winning plenty of new admirers with their 4-0 win over Celtic in Seattle, United continued their charm offensive on Saturday with an open training session here.

Around 5,000 fans turned up to watch, a large percentage wearing replica kit. There was plenty of local interest in United's new US-born goalkeeper Tim Howard, although the £2.3m signing will not make his debut until Thursday when United play Juventus.

Roy Keane left the session early because of a tight hamstring, but the injury was not believed to be serious.

* Livingston are set to become Manchester United's first feeder club in Scotland. The deal is likely to mean promising youngsters at United being sent to Livi for first-team experience, while the Premiership champions are alerted to promising talent at Almondvale.