United bid £17.5m for Valencia

Wigan winger, Ribéry and Benzema top shopping list as replacements for Ronaldo
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The Independent Online

Manchester United last night made the first significant move to replace the outgoing Cristiano Ronaldo by making a £17.5m bid for Wigan Athletic's Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia. A spokesman for Wigan said a firm offer was on the table but did not confirm the details. The club's chairman, Dave Whelan, said: "We will be starting negotiations very shortly."

United will pocket £80m from Ronaldo's sale to Real Madrid and all of that will be available to Sir Alex Ferguson to spend this summer. A spokesman for United's owners, the Glazer family, ratified that fact last night, adding: "Sir Alex Ferguson is in total control of his squad. He is empowered to make whatever decisions he thinks are in the best interests of Manchester United.

"Only the paranoia of some supporters would lead you to believe the owners are not going to continue investing in the team."

Ferguson is known to be an admirer of the French international duo Franck Ribéry, 26, and Karim Benzema, 21, but the pair's respective clubs, Bayern Munich and Lyons, want huge sums for the players and appear reluctant for now to negotiate.

Valencia, 23, who has scored four times in 34 caps for his country, has been on Wigan's books on a permanent basis since last summer after two seasons on loan. His pace on the right has made him a target for Real, but with the more prolific Ronaldo now heading there, Valencia looks likely to be one of several newcomers to Old Trafford funded by Ronaldo's sale.

"[Ferguson] has a strong interest in Antonio, there is no question in that," Whelan said. "He had him watched practically every single match last year.

"What is difficult is to stop a lad like Antonio Valencia, who has got ambition. I would never stand in the way of a footballer who can go to bigger and better clubs, and you can't get bigger and better than Man United.

"If Antonio Valencia says to me, 'Chairman, I want to go to Manchester United' and we get the right fee, the deal will be done."

Bayern's general manager, Uli Hoeness, said his club would only consider selling Ribéry if a "crazy" bid came in. "We would only talk on very strict conditions," he said. "And that would be if they were prepared to do crazy things."

Hoeness recently joked that even €50m (about £42m) would not buy one of Ribéry's legs, but it is thought that Bayern would consider offers starting at €75m for the whole body. Real are also interested in him.

The president of Lyons, Jean-Michel Aulas, said of Benzema: "There are many clubs after him, but only after the World Cup. We interrogated his agent and we are not under the impression that he will leave in the short term."

As for Ronaldo, the man himself was still in America yesterday. Portuguese sources suggested that his sister Elma Aveiro and mother Dolores flew to the US on Thursday intending to take a cruise around the Caribbean. If Ronaldo's move is not completed in the next few days, he will join them on their ship, though his agent, Jorge Mendes, has begun discussions with Real about personal terms.

Ronaldo wants a hands-on role in those discussions. If the deal is concluded, he is expected in Madrid early next week but will spend a week on his native Madeira before Real's pre-season training begins on 10 July. His first game could be at Shamrock Rovers on Real's pre-season tour that week.

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