Real Madrid are planning to enter the race to sign Wayne Rooney this summer after identifying the Manchester United forward as more attainable than their first-choice target Sergio Aguero.
Although United remain determined to resist all offers for Rooney, preferring to hold the 28 year-old to the remaining 18 months on his Old Trafford contract, Real believe that the England forward can be prised away from the Premier League champions at the end of the season.
Rooney's failure to commit his future to United and the prospect of playing again with Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu Stadium has given Real confidence that a deal can be struck for the player. Manchester City forward Aguero remains Real's No?1 target, having been courted by the club since his prolific spell with Madrid neighbours Atletico, but neither City nor the Argentine have offered any encourage-ment that a deal can be done. Aguero's decision to commit himself to a new contract at the Etihad Stadium last May, tying him to the club until June 2017, forced Real to abort plans to move for the player last summer and although their interest is ongoing, City's financial power and emergence as a genuine European power has forced Real to consider other options.
Rooney, Luis Suarez and Monaco forward Radamel Falcao are all regarded as potential acquisitions, with Real failing to bolster their striking department at the end of last season, but the United forward's contract stand-off at Old Trafford is regarded by Real president Florentino Perez as the key to agreeing a deal for a player whose reputation remains high in Spain. Suarez's decision to commit to a 41/2-year contract at Liverpool last month has complicated Real's interest in the Uruguayan, who would become even more difficult to sign if the Anfield club regain Champions League status this season.
While Real pursued Falcao last summer, prior to his 51 million pounds transfer from Atletico to Monaco, the financial cost of luring the unsettled Colombian back to Madrid would dwarf the potential pounds 25?million required to sign Rooney. With the French striker Karim Benzema the only recognised centre-forward in the Real squad, the club are determined to bolster their firepower by adding a proven goalscorer. And Rooney's ability to play as a lone striker, as well as in the position behind a centre-forward, has reignited Perez's long-standing admiration of the player.
United are expected to open contract negotiations with Rooney and his advisers following the closure of the transfer window in an effort to resolve his future before he departs for the World Cup in Brazil with England at the end of the season. But with David Moyes's team in seventh position in the Premier League, six points adrift of Champions League qualification, it is understood that Rooney is prepared to assess his options in the summer rather than commit to staying at Old Trafford.
Should the former Everton player reject the chance to sign a deal, United have made it clear that they are prepared to allow Rooney to run down his contract and risk him leaving the club on a free transfer in the summer of 2015.
Chelsea are expected to make a third bid for Rooney this summer, after having two offers rejected last July and August, but a sale to a domestic rival has been ruled out by United. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho claimed last week that United would, however, be prepared to sell Rooney to a foreign club, potentially paving the way for Real to do business should the player intensify his efforts to leave Old Trafford. Despite previous battles to retain players when faced with interest from Real, United have ultimately sanctioned the sales of Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham and Gabriel Heinze to the Spanish giants.
While Rooney has often been portrayed as having little interest in -playing outside the Premier League, it is understood that he would be open to a move to the continent should a European heavyweight offer the opportunity. Rooney is set to be sidelined once again when United face Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at Old Trafford this evening (Wednesday). Despite returning to training this week following a sunshine break in Egypt aimed at resolving a groin problem, it is understood that Rooney is unlikely to return to action until the Premier League game at home against Cardiff City next Tuesday at the earliest.
Robin van Persie, who has been out with a thigh injury for the past six weeks, is also unavailable tonight and not expected to be fit until the trip to Stoke on February 1 after only this week being cleared to return to full training. With captain Nemanja Vidic suspended following his dismissal during United's 3-1 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday, Moyes's team must therefore overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit tonight without three of their most experienced players.
Vidic, who revealed that he gave his first League Cup winner's medal to former team-mate Giuseppe Rossi, who had played more games than him in the 2006 campaign, has had his appeal against his red card on Sunday rejected by the Football Association, He will now miss forth-coming league matches with Cardiff and Stoke in addition to the Sunderland game tonight. "We're going to go out and do every-thing we can to get through," Moyes said. "I want to give the supporters something to cheer about. There's not been an awful lot and I'm fully aware of that."