Goodbye Rooney, hello Torres
Manchester United are ready to test Liverpool's determination to retain Fernando Torres in January after being encouraged that the Spanish forward could be prised away from Anfield.
Real Madrid forwards Karim Benzema and Kaka are also on the Old Trafford club's radar, with the club's owners, the Glazer family, acutely aware of the necessity to replace Wayne Rooney with another stellar name should the England forward leave.
Despite Alex Ferguson's insistence that United will "leave the door open" for Rooney to reconsider his decision to leave, plans are already being drawn up to replace the 24-year-old.
Manchester City are expected to lodge a £35m bid for Rooney once the transfer window opens. Chelsea are also keen and, while their bid of £20m will fall way short of City's, the Stamford Bridge hierarchy are encouraged on the basis that Ferguson will be reluctant to do business with his "noisy neighbours".
Although the prospect of enticing Torres from United's century-old rivals is likely to prompt acrimony and fury on the red half of Merseyside, 26- year-old Torres has emerged as Ferguson's top target due to a growing perception within the game that the striker is disenchanted at Liverpool and desperate to move elsewhere.
No player has moved directly between English football's two most successful clubs since the unheralded forward Phil Chisnall left Old Trafford for Anfield in 1964. Paul Ince and Michael Owen have since represented both, while Ferguson blocked Gabriel Heinze's attempts to leave United for Liverpool in 2007.
United are likely to face stiff competition from Chelsea and City should they pursue a move for Torres, but the impact and controversy generated by such a move is likely to be diminished should Rooney complete an even more explosive transfer across Manchester.
Ferguson actively pursued Torres during the summers of 2006 and 2007 while the Spain international was with Atletico Madrid, but with United moving for Carlos Tevez in 2007, Torres instead completed a £26.5m transfer to Liverpool.
The change of management and ownership at Liverpool in recent months has raised the prospect of a remarkable deal, which would have been unthinkable during the management of Rafael Benitez.
Ferguson has already been told by the Glazers that Rooney's future is in his hands. Similarly, any funds raised from his sale will be ploughed directly back into luring another A-list player to the club.
The question of whether Rooney will play for United again is in some doubt. He was stretchered off a training pitch with another ankle injury yesterday and will not play against Bursaspor in the Champions League at Old Trafford tonight.
City manager Roberto Mancini will be asked about Rooney for the first time at a press conference scheduled for 10.0 today to discuss the club's Europa League tie with Lech Poznan.
The £220,000-a-week salary being commanded by City's Yaya Toure -- to date, a far less potent Premier League player than Rooney -- is what has switched the striker on to the idea of leaving United. (© Daily Telegraph, London)