United set to enter £12m Kuyt contest with Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Manchester United will now consider a bid for the Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt, a long-term target for Liverpool, to replace his departed countryman Ruud van Nistelrooy after it was confirmed yesterday that they have agreed an eye- watering £18.6m fee for Michael Carrick, who will inherit Roy Keane's No 16 shirt at Old Trafford.

Kuyt has been tracked by Liverpool all summer after playing a central role in the Netherlands' World Cup finals campaign, although the Merseyside club have refused to meet a £12m valuation of the player. They may have to revise that opinion after it emerged yesterday that United have made enquiries about Kuyt's situation, as their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, seeks to strengthen his forward line in the wake of Van Nistelrooy's departure.

As revealed in The Independent last week, Carrick's fee was settled in the early hours of Thursday morning at £18m - and Tottenham sought to present the deal in their favour yesterday by revealing that the total could rise to as much as £18.6m. That amount would be payable only if United were to achieve significant success in the Premiership and Champions' League, but Tottenham can be sure of at least £14m.

Ferguson revealed before last night's friendly match against Macclesfield that Carrick would take the No 16 shirt of Keane, who left the club in November. "I spoke to him and told him that we were giving him the No 16 jersey," Ferguson said. "He was delighted at that and that's encouraging because sometimes players can be a bit superstitious about things like that. But he was keen to take it."

United's interest in Kuyt shows that they have contingency plans in place now that it seems almost certain that their primary striker target for the summer, Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres, is resolved to stay in Spain for another year at least. Both Liverpool and Newcastle United had shown an interest in Kuyt, although neither had come close to agreeing a fee for the player.

Kuyt's goalscoring prowess in domestic football in the Netherlands is not in doubt - he has scored 71 times for Feyenoord in three seasons since joining them from Utrecht in the summer of 2003. However, in Germany this summer, while Kuyt was selected ahead of Van Nistelrooy for the second-round defeat to Portugal he did not score at the tournament. What he has in his favour is his availability.

A relatively late developer, Kuyt, who made his international debut only two years ago, has indicated that he would be interested in a move away from Feyenoord this summer. While he may not rank among the very best goalscorers in Europe, with only one month left for United to add to their attacking talent Kuyt may represent their best option.

While United have only just made their first acquisition in the summer's transfer market, they have been compensated around £8m by Chelsea for giving up their rights to John Obi Mikel, as well as the £11m for Van Nistelrooy.

United are also interested in the Spain and Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna as a more combative foil to Carrick and Paul Scholes, but as he is 30 they are keen not to pay over the odds.

Nevertheless, the Stock Exchange announcement by Tottenham of the size of the Carrick deal is likely

to embarrass United who found themselves going up and up from their opening position of £10m.

Sources at Spurs have admitted surprise at how close United were willing to go to their valuation of £20m - they would have taken around £12m if Carrick had held out until the end of this month.

Yesterday, Martin Jol, the Spurs manager, said that there were no hard feelings between Tottenham and Carrick, who had turned down the club's new contract offer. "I don't feel let down, Michael was always a terrific servant for this club," Jol said. "He never moaned, even when we said he had to stay a couple of weeks ago. United are a terrific club and they had to compensate us in the end."

Wayne Rooney was named in United's side to start against Macclesfield in last night's friendly at Moss Rose. Yesterday was also the first time that the England striker had seen his team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo since the winger appealed successfully for Rooney to be sent off during the World Cup. Ronaldo got into United's training ground without attracting the attention of television camera crews. He has said at least twice this summer that he wants to join Real Madrid and it may have taken more than his usual excuse, the media, to convince his team-mates he wants to stay.

United play in Amsterdam against Porto on Friday and then Ajax on Saturday, the same day Kuyt's Feyenoord team will play Middlesbrough at their De Kuip stadium. They will also host Chelsea next Tuesday.

The Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo is likely this week to go to Internazionale, who are also expected to snap up Patrick Vieira from Juventus. Chelsea have been linked with Kuyt, although it would be hard to see where they would accommodate him . But they remain the one English team United cannot outbid.

United's most expensive buys

* RIO FERDINAND £29.1m (From Leeds Utd, 2002)

* JUAN VERON £28.1m (From Lazio, 2001)

* WAYNE ROONEY £27m (From Everton, 2004)

* RUUD VAN NISTELROOY £19m (From PSVEindhoven, 2001)

* MICHAEL CARRICK £18.6m (From Tottenham Hotspur, 2006)