Ferguson gets out in front of Real in race to sign French starlet Varane
Manchester United have emerged as front-runners to sign the 18-year-old Lens defender Raphael Varane following the French club's surprise relegation.
The 6ft 3in defender, who can also play in midfield, is rated at £9m by Lens after emerging as one of the brightest young talents in France.
United manager Alex Ferguson has had Varane scouted regularly at Stade Felix Bollaert this season and the youngster, who has represented France at both U-18 and U-21 level, admitted last month to being the subject of growing interest from Old Trafford.
"There has been contact from Manchester United's side, but also from other clubs," Varane said. "I don't pay too much attention to it. This kind of thing will pass."
With Ferguson keen to bolster his defensive options due to lingering concerns over Rio Ferdinand's ability to avoid further injury setbacks next season, United have identified Varane as a potential long-term replacement for the 32-year-old former England captain.
Everton's Jack Rodwell and Bolton centre-half Gary Cahill are also being considered by United, but it is understood that Varane is close to agreeing a move to Old Trafford, despite strong interest from Paris Saint-Germain.
Having made 21 appearances for Lens this season, Varane could yet move to United and be loaned back to a French club next season in order to boost his experience and reports in France have suggested that the player favours a loan from United to PSG to avoid a lengthy campaign on the sidelines.
Real Madrid are also pursuing Varane, but United's long-term interest has given the Premier League champions a head start over the Spanish club.