Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and Holland's Maarten Stekelenburg head a three-man shortlist to replace Edwin van der Sar at Manchester United following the 40-year-old's confirmation that he will retire from football this summer.
Atletico Madrid's David de Gea is also under consideration at Old Trafford, but Neuer and Stekelenburg have emerged as the favoured targets following an 18-month search for a successor.
Van der Sar's announcement yesterday, combined with former United captain Gary Neville's expected exit this summer, leaves manager Alex Ferguson facing the loss of two of his senior figures. The club have already made plans to ensure that replacing Van der Sar proves less traumatic than their six-year search for a successor for Peter Schmeichel -- eventually solved by the Dutchman's arrival from Fulham in June 2005.
United's goalkeeping coach Eric Steele said: "The question is: can we get somebody to replace Edwin? We could do it internally, but we have looked at the best targets and we now have a nice one, two and three who we think can fill the job.
"Edwin is going to be a very difficult man to replace. I think that penalty save against Chelsea in Moscow in 2008 (in the Champions League final) has elevated him alongside Peter Schmeichel, and that is some achievement."
Van der Sar's age, combined with the stroke suffered by his wife, Annemarie, in December 2009, had left Ferguson acutely aware that a new goalkeeper would become a priority this summer. And the club have undertaken a series of scouting trips in recent months, with Lyon's Hugo Lloris, CSKA Moscow's Igor Akinfeev, Rene Adler, of Bayer Leverkusen, and Liverpool's Pepe Reina all coming under scrutiny.
Schalke goalkeeper Neuer and Ajax's Stekelenburg are now understood to be Ferguson's prime targets.
Both possess the top-level experience demanded by the United manager, both speak English and, crucially, the two keepers will both enter the final year of their club contracts this summer, therefore reducing their transfer valuations.
Bayern Munich's interest in Neuer could complicate matters for United, but Stekelenburg has already made it clear that he will not extend his contract at Ajax.
De Gea is regarded as a potential successor to the likes of Schmeichel and Van der Sar as one of the world's best goalkeepers. But concerns over the 20-year-old's inexperience and Atletico's £20m-plus asking price have pushed the Spain U-21 international behind Neuer and Stekelenburg.
United's long-term interest in Lloris, France's World Cup goalkeeper, has waned because of concerns over Lyon's willingness to do business. Ferguson has admitted in the past that the stubbornness of Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has prevented deals for Michael Essien and Karim Benzema and, with two and a half years remaining on his contract at the club, any move for Lloris could prove expensive.
Steele has admitted that Anders Lindegaard's arrival from Aalesunds was merely a move by United to replace reserve 'keeper Ben Foster, who was sold to Birmingham last summer. Lindegaard is in line to make his United debut in tomorrow's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Southampton because Van der Sar has a slight knock.
But despite Schmeichel insisting on Twitter on Thursday that Van der Sar is still playing too well to retire, the former Ajax, Juventus, Fulham and Holland keeper insists that the time is right.
"It's been coming for a while," Van der Sar said. "After playing for so many years, you reach a point where you have to make a decision.
"There are a couple of things to consider -- whether you still have an appetite for it and your family. You have to look at yourself also. You have to ask if you can bring that top level of performance that you need at United.
"At the moment I am quite happy with my form and my achievements on the pitch. I just want to keep that on a high level, but you can't play Superman into your 40s.
"It's a mutual decision that this season was the last." (© Daily Telegraph, London)