Schalke are attempting to thwart Manchester United's pursuit of Manuel Neuer by opening talks with the Germany goalkeeper in an attempt to buy out a €15m release clause in his contract.
Neuer, who impressed during Germany's run to the World Cup semi-finals last summer, is on United's shortlist alongside Ajax's Maarten Stekelenburg and Atletico Madrid's David de Gea to replace Edwin van der Sar when the 40-year-old retires at the end of this season. Neuer (24) is also a target for Bayern Munich.
United and Bayern are ready to take advantage of Neuer's contract situation at Schalke, with his deal due to expire in June 2012.
It is understood that Neuer's contract includes an escape clause that can be triggered by Champions League participants offering in excess of €15m for the player. However, the deal also allows Schalke to reject such an offer with the proviso that they increase Neuer's €2m-a-year salary by 20pc.
With growing interest in their goalkeeper, Schalke are ready to open talks over a new deal. Schalke head coach Felix Magath said: "He is definitely with us until 2012. But we are in conversation and will meet again in the spring."
United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele admitted this month that the club had identified three leading contenders to replace Van der Sar.
Liverpool's Pepe Reina has also been considered by United, who are aware of the £20m release clause in the Spaniard's contract at Anfield, but the difficulties in prising a player from Liverpool, including the off-field furore that could affect any player moving between the clubs, has rendered Reina as an outsider to replace Van der Sar.
Schalke's determination to retain Neuer could prompt United to firm up their interest in Stekelenburg, who is expected to leave Ajax this summer, but Atletico youngster De Gea (20) has reiterated his intent to remain in Madrid.
The Spain U-21 goalkeeper said: "If you're comfortable in your club, you do not look for anything. That's my situation." (© Daily Telegraph, London)