Fergie ready to spend part of £80m warchest on Villa ace
MANCHESTER UNITED are monitoring James Milner's contract negotiations at Aston Villa as Alex Ferguson prepares to reshape his Old Trafford squad this summer.
Ferguson, who has already invested almost £20m in new faces for next season by completing deals for Fulham defender Chris Smalling and Mexican forward Javier Hernandez, is understood to have a transfer fund of £80m at his disposal for squad strengthening, despite the club's £716.5m debt.
And Villa midfielder Milner has emerged as a target under consideration at Old Trafford following his impressive campaign at Villa Park, which has seen him consolidate a place in the England squad and earn a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
The 24-year-old is expected to open contract talks at Villa at the end of the season to replace the final two years of his deal with a £65,000-a-week four-year package.
Ferguson remains determined to add a new goalkeeper and forward to his squad -- with France No 1 Hugo Lloris and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema top targets -- before addressing his midfield options, hence the club's intention to remain abreast of Milner's situation at Villa. The United manager has been impressed by Milner's maturity this season, however, and his ability to perform in a variety of positions for club and country.
With Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes entering the twilight of their careers, Brazilian midfielder Anderson sidelined with a cruciate ligament injury, the failure of Owen Hargreaves to return to senior action and Michael Carrick's inability to command a regular starting place, Ferguson is mindful of potential problems ahead in midfield.
But with greater priorities to address, the Scot is prepared to play a waiting game with Milner and move if the opportunity arises later in the summer.
United travel to Manchester City tomorrow needing to repeat their victory at Old Trafford last September if they are to retain any realistic hope of overhauling Chelsea to win the Premier League title.
Ferguson's team won 4-3 on that occasion thanks to Michael Owen's winning goal deep into injury-time, but United defender Rio Ferdinand, who produced an error-strewn display against City, claims he was "depressed" after that game.
Ferdinand said: "I didn't enjoy the first game very much, for obvious reasons. That said, we did go on and win the game, so it all worked out OK.
"It was just a 'phew' moment (when Owen scored). I said a big thank you to him at the time and I texted him again later that night to say it again.
"It was odd in the dressing-room afterwards. We'd won the game so the lads were bouncing around, going crazy, but I was just depressed, sitting there thinking about how lucky I'd been.
"I hate making errors, especially in games of that magnitude.
"But it was really important for us to win that game. We wanted to hammer home to our fans that we still cared enough about that fixture to go out there and put everything on the line to beat Manchester City."
Meanwhile, City left-back Wayne Bridge has been included in the home side's squad after recovering from a hernia operation, which caused him to miss five matches.
Bridge is one of four players who are in line to return with Stephen Ireland (ankle) and Patrick Vieira (knee ) on the mend from injuries, while Pablo Zabaleta is free from suspension.
Bridge has endured a troubled season off and on the pitch and only returned to action against Hull in February after missing 13 games because of a knee problem.
City manager Roberto Mancini said:
"We will have Pablo Zabaleta available again following his two-match ban and possibly Stephen Ireland, Patrick Vieira and Wayne Bridge, too, which is very good news for us. I am very pleased."
Mancini will be free to take his place in the dugout after escaping a touchline ban following his clash with Everton manager David Moyes last month.
The Italian accepted a charge of improper conduct at a personal hearing at Eastlands yesterday and was warned as to his future conduct and issued with a suspended fine of £20,000, which will be triggered should he be found guilty of a similar offence before the end of the 2011-12 season.