Manchester United are planning a surprise move for Chelsea and England left-back Ashley Cole, reports ESPN Soccernet.

The 31-year-old is in the final 12 months of his contract, and will be available on a free transfer at the end of the season, if he fails to agree a new contract in west London.

Although Cole is hopeful of extending his stay at Stamford Bridge, the new policy of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, to hand players aged over 30 rolling one-year deals, means that his future has been cast in doubt.

Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson may look to capitalise on the situation and lure the defender to Old Trafford, as he looks to add competition for vice-captain Patrice Evra.

United signed Alexander Buttner from Vitesse Arnhem in the summer, but the full-back was way down on the club's list of preferred targets, and should be regarded only as a short-term resolution.

An ESPN insider said: "Manchester United cannot be discounted from the equation, there are plenty of interested clubs, and Manchester United might well be one of them."

Roberto Di Matteo is eager to commit Cole to a new Chelsea contract, and won't want to lose one of his star players to a direct Premier League rival. If it turns out he has to be released, then the Italian will prefer he goes to Paris Saint Germain - another club keen on Cole's signature.

Carlo Ancelotti recently praised Cole as the best left-back in the world, and having worked with him during his time as Chelsea manager, will be hoping that the Ligue 1 club can move ahead of Manchester United, when they are free to talk to the player in January.

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