Manchester United have identified Saint-Etienne's French teenage centre-half Kurt Zouma as a potential acquisition and are taking an active interest in the player's current contract talks with his club.
The Independent understands that the 18-year-old, viewed as one of the brightest defensive talents in France, is a player whom United monitored ahead of last summer, though the defender's parents felt that he was not ready to make the leap to leave France for a major European club.
Sir Alex Ferguson's brother, Martin, was due to watch Saint-Etienne's match against Lille last week, a goalless draw, to see the France Under-19 player, who has attracted the interest of a number of Premier League clubs – including Queen's Park Rangers, who were told his value was £10m during their own search for a centre-half in pre-season. United's interest has led several British clubs to believe there might be some type of pre-contract agreement between the 6ft 2in defender and United, but Zouma's agent said that was not the case. Zouma is expected to sign a new extended deal with the French club, though that could just be a way of Saint-Etienne securing protection for their investment of time in developing the player.
United have again sent scouts to Portugal to check on one of their summer targets, Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay.
Benfica are under financial pressure to sell 26-year-old Garay, who is rated at £15m, this summer as they cannot afford to continue paying his wages. But Zouma's age profile will make him an attractive proposition to United, who have sent striker Federico Macheda out on loan to Stuttgart.
Ferguson responded to the Football Association's request for an explanation of his comments about linesman Simon Beck at Tottenham on Sunday, which leaves the governing body until Tuesday to decide whether or not to take further action. The United manager is likely to argue that he complained to the media about Beck's performance in the game, rather than question his general ability.
United are expected to wrap up a deal for Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha within 48 hours and are likely to pay the Championship club £10m up front, with the fee potentially rising to £15m.
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