United line up new goalkeeper

SIR Alex Ferguson has set himself a near-impossible task after identifying the candidate he believes is best qualified to succeed Edwin Van Der Sar as Manchester United's first-choice keeper next season. (Daily Mail)

After an exhaustive search that has taken in CSKA Moscow's Russia number one Igor Akinfeev and Bayer Leverkusen's Rene Adler, following doubts about Ben Foster's readiness to step up, Ferguson is believed to have settled on Manuel Neuer as his prime target.

But sources close to the Germany keeper claim that prising him away from home club Schalke would be as difficult as trying to persuade Steven Gerrard to turn his back on Liverpool.

Bayern Munich are also pursuing the 23-year old but admit they have little hope of landing him after having a bid rejected during the summer. Challenged on their interest on German television, Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer replied: 'It is true we want him at our club, but he is one player Schalke will never sell.'

Sportsmail understands Neuer's long-term contract contains an �18million escape clause that could be activated next summer.

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It would still take all Ferguson's powers of persuasion to entice him to Old Trafford, though, even if the United manager agreed to match an asking price that would double the British record �9million Sunderland paid for Craig Gordon two years ago.

Schalke boss Felix Magath spoke out yesterday over growing interest in Neuer and underlined the seemingly unbreakable bond that exists between the star of Germany's European under-21 final victory last June and the club he has always supported.

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'We would never even contemplate letting him go, because he is the symbol of this club,' said the former Bayern coach.

'He was born and raised here in Gelsenkirchen, and, right up to the time he started playing for us, he queued up to sit in the stands and cheer the team on. He is a total darling of the Schalke crowd, and if ever we sold him, we would be ripping the heart out of this club.'

With Van Der Sar due to retire at the end of the season, Ferguson must now decide whether to continue with one of his most testing transfer missions or reassess the claims of Akinfeev and Adler.

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