United offer £9m for teenage Lens defender


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The Independent Football

Manchester United have bid €10.5m (£9.2m) for the French central defender Raphaël Varane, as they continue to set the pace in the summer transfer market. The 18-year-old Lens centre-half is seen as a player for the future but the price United are willing to pay reflects his reputation as one of the rising stars of the French game.

Lens' opening negotiating position was £10m and the major obstacle United appear to have is convincing Varane that he will get first-team opportunities at Old Trafford. He said only a week ago that he would "think carefully" about the proposition of a move to United. "What interests me is the playing time. I have to think twice and go to a club that will allow me to progress," added Varane, who suggested that "the most reasonable choice would be to stay in Ligue 1."

But despite the struggle of Gabriel Obertan, one of the stars of his age group at France's Clairefontaine academy, to make headway at United and a summer which has already seen Phil Jones added to the club's young central defensive contingent, Sir Alex Ferguson has gone to lengths to persuade Varane that he can learn the English game by signing now.

Paris Saint-Germain are among other contenders to sign the 6ft 3in defender, whose maturity in a Lens side which was relegated last season has been unmistakable to United scouts who have paid regular visits to Stade Félix Bollaert this spring. Reports in France also suggest that two major Spanish clubs, including Real Madrid, are interested.

Though there had been some prospect of an arrangement by which Varane would be sold and loaned back to Lens or another French club, a permanent move is now the Premier League champions' preference. Such a move to United would see Varane substantially increase his £10,500-a-month salary in northern France.

Just a year ago, Varane was playing for the Lens Under-19s but his goalscoring ability in the air and his capacity to also operate as a holding midfielder have increased his value.

The injury issues which have dogged Rio Ferdinand for two seasons, Jonny Evans' indifferent form in the last campaign and Wes Brown's likely departure to Sunderland means Ferguson needs to rebuild his central defence. The Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce, who will meet Brown, John O'Shea and Darron Gibson in the next few days, is as yet only confident of Gibson's desire to head to the Stadium of Light.