Ferguson set to step up Benzema pursuit

MANCHESTER UNITED manager Alex Ferguson is set to step up his pursuit of Karim Benzema after Carlos Tevez’s departure was finally confirmed over the weekend.

Lyon striker Benzema was always likely to be at the top of Ferguson’s shopping list this summer, with the United manager admitting he knew Cristiano Ronaldo would quit Old Trafford for Real Madrid.

Ferguson had wanted to keep hold of Tevez, but the Argentine’s decision to turn down a five-year contract has only intensified the need for more firepower.

The loss of both Ronaldo and Tevez has cost United two of their biggest stars – and Ferguson is desperate to replace them with marquee signings.

Benzema fits that bill perfectly, with a bid of around £30m (€35m) likely to be enough to tempt Lyon to sell one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

The French club have softened their stance over the 21-year-old over the past week – all but inviting Ferguson to make a bid for a player he has tracked for more than two years.

Lyon sporting director Bernard Lacombe said: “Nobody knows what is going to happen. What should we do if Manchester, who have a lot of cash to spend, want to sign Benzema?’’

Franck Ribery is also on Ferguson’s wish-list, and despite Bayern Munich’s insistence he is not for sale, a £40m (€47m) bid could tempt their resolve.

Even if United land the £70m (€83m) double capture of Benzema and Ribery, Ferguson would still have a massive war-chest with which to plunder the transfer market – especially now that the £25m (€30m) earmarked for Tevez is back in the kitty.

Gremio’s Brazilian starlet Douglas Costa is a £20m (€23.5m) target, while Wigan’s Antonio Valencia is expected to sign for £16m (€19m).

And Wigan chairman Dave Whelan is convinced the Ecuador international would develop into a world class performer at Old Trafford.

“I think Antonio is the best wide right player anywhere and that includes Franck Ribery,’’ he said. “If this lad goes to Man United he will be a sensation there.’’

Meanwhile Didier Drogba has revealed he has been contacted by former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho about the possibility of the striker joining him at Inter.

According to Drogba, Mourinho told the Ivorian that his intention is to partner him and Samuel Eto’o in the Nerazzurri’s attack.

“Mourinho has told me that I would make a nice partnership with Eto’o. His dream is to see us play together,” Drogba told L’Equipe.

However, Drogba maintains that, as things stand, he does not envisage leaving The Blues this summer.

“I still have a year to go on my Chelsea contract and I want to honour it,” he added.

“But even when I was at Marseille, I was convinced that I would stay a long time and then I went. So many things can happen, it does not depend only on me…”

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