Manchester United have earmarked Saint-Etienne's French teenage centre-half Kurt Zouma as a potential acquisition.
The 18-year-old, viewed as one of the brightest defensive talents in France, was monitored by United last season, but the defender's parents felt that he was not ready to make the leap to leave his home country for a major European club.
Alex Ferguson's brother, Martin, who scouts for United, attended Saint-Etienne's match against Lille last week to watch Zouma, who has attracted the interest of a number of Premier League clubs – including Queen's Park Rangers, who were told his value was £10m during their own search for a centre-half in pre-season.
United's interest has led several British clubs to believe there might be some type of pre-contract agreement between the 6ft 2in defender and United, but Zouma's agent yesterday said that was not the case.
Zouma is expected to sign a new extended deal with the French club, though that could just be a way of Saint-Etienne securing protection for their investment of time in developing the player.
Though Rio Ferdinand was restored to his best form in last weekend's draw against Tottenham Hotspur, a young centre-half will be needed to make up the complement of four at United, with Ferdinand yet to indicate publicly whether he wants to renew his contract.
With Nemanja Vidic having suffered injury problems over the past two seasons and United's central defence looking vulnerable at times this season, the club have again sent scouts to Portugal to check on one of their summer targets, Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay.
Benfica are level on points with Porto at the top of the Portuguese Liga, but are under financial pressure to sell 26-year-old Garay, who is rated at £15m, this summer as they can't afford to continue paying his wages.
Real Madrid, Garay's former club, are entitled to half of whatever fee the player is eventually sold for. He has 11 caps for his country.
United, who have sent Federico Macheda out on loan to Stuttgart, hope to conclude a £10m deal for Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha this weekend. (© Independent News Service)