NEMANJA VIDIC moved closer to the exit door at Old Trafford yesterday after Manchester United agreed the £12m signing of Chris Smalling, the England U-21 defender, from Fulham for the start of next season.
Smalling's pre-contract agreement will enable him to remain at the west London club until the end of the present campaign before completing the move in the summer, when Vidic is expected to leave the club, probably for Real Madrid.
Barcelona and AC Milan are also interested in Vidic, but Real appear his most likely destination, with United expected to hold out for up to £30m.
Smalling's impending move to United, who beat Arsenal to his signature, caps a meteoric rise for the 20-year-old and a shrewd piece of business for Fulham.
In the space of 18 months, he has gone from playing non-league football with Maidstone United, of the Ryman League Premier Division, to representing his country at U-21 level and agreeing personal terms.
Meanwhile, Roman Pavlyuchenko, the Tottenham Hotspur and Russia forward, could be on his way to high-flying Birmingham City after Alex McLeish challenged Carson Yeung to back up his financial pledges by bringing in a blue-chip striker before next week's transfer deadline.
The Birmingham manager has handed the club president a list of targets thought to be headed by Pavlyuchenko, who is surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane, and Sunderlsand's Kenwyne Jones.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo has been hit with a two-match ban following his red card during Real Madrid's 2-0 win against Malaga last Sunday.
Ronaldo was shown a straight red in the 70th minute of the Primera Division encounter at the Bernabeu after his swinging elbow caught Patrick Mtiliga in the face, leaving the Denmark defender with a broken nose. Madrid have decided to appeal the decision and the hearing has been set for tomorrow.
Valladolid goalkeeper Jacobo will be sidelined for at least two months after undergoing emergency surgery last night. After unsuccessfully trying to reduce the stopper's pain, club doctors decided to rush him to hospital, where he was swiftly operated on to remove a blockage in his intestines.