United watch Carrick's Spurs contract talks

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The Independent Football

Manchester United will keep a close check on Michael Carrick's contract talks with Tottenham Hotspur in the New Year with a view to buying the England midfielder as a long-term replacement for Roy Keane in the summer, should he fail agree a new deal at White Hart Lane.

The 24-year-old has impressed in the holding role this season - a position where United desperately need to strengthen.

Sir Alex Ferguson is understood to be an admirer of the Newcastle-born Carrick, who joined Tottenham almost 18 months ago from West Ham United and has established himself in Martin Jol's new generation of young English players. He signed for Tottenham for £2.75m towards the end of the summer transfer window in August 2004 and is due a review of his salary after breaking into the England squad.

Although Carrick signed a four-year deal, Tottenham are unlikely to radically revise their pay structure for him. But with Robbie Keane, among the top earners at the club, on around £40,000 a week, Carrick should be in a position to demand parity at least come the summer.

He has excelled at the holding role in front of the Tottenham back four and has been a key component in their rise to fourth in the Premiership this season. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have proved unable, or unwilling, to play that role for England and Newcastle's Scott Parker has fallen out of favour with Sven Goran Eriksson. It means Carrick, and his Tottenham team-mate Ledley King, are the favourites to fill the role should England need it at the World Cup finals.

United are among a select group of clubs capable of paying the kind of wages that would match Carrick's status. Alan Smith's deployment in Keane's former role has not yet convinced Ferguson that he is a serious long-term alternative and Carrick, who is also admired by Arsène Wenger, could prove a better fit.

Tottenham face falling prey to their own success, with their best young players now in a position to demand wages that break the club's wage structure. The signing of Edgar Davids proved that the club are capable of paying the very top wages, and captain King is still holding out on a new deal even though he has only 18 months left on his current contract.

The 26-year-old is understood to have been offered a £35,000-a-week contract, which he has not yet signed. The longer he goes without committing his future to the club, the greater the pressure on Tottenham.

The policy of buying bright young British talent that was initiated by former director of football Frank Arnesen has paid dividends for Jol's side and they feel they have signed another exceptional prospect in the former Leeds winger Aaron Lennon.

Carrick's success, though, has barred the route to the first team for Tom Huddlestone, bought from Derby County in the summer for £2.5m and currently on loan at Wolverhampton. Only 19 this week, he would be a possible replacement should Carrick leave.

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