Athletic Bilbao expect an offer from Manchester United for the services of highly-rated centre-back Aymeric Laporte, who is happy to join the Red Devils provided they trigger his £31 million release clause.
This is according to well-connected Spanish football reporter Guillem Balague, who tweeted on Monday that Laporte is keen to join Louis van Gaal’s side should the two clubs reach an agreement over the fee.
Balague, however, believes Manchester United will need to pay the £31 million in full - with the Basque club not prepared to accept a lower fee for the best young player at San Mames.
Rio Ferdinand's successor?
Laporte, a France Under-21 international, was snapped up by Athletic from French outfit Bayonne in 2010. Two years later he made his senior debut for the La Liga outfit and has appeared regularly in the club’s first team ever since.
The 6ft 2in defender has impressed fans and pundits alike with his technical qualities and might be regarded by Van Gaal as a natural successor to Rio Ferdinand, the classy centre-back who left Old Trafford at the end of last season.
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Van Gaal tempted
A defender comfortable in possession, but equally capable of getting stuck in when required, Van Gaal may believe Laporte - despite the huge asking price - is worth the money on account of his current ability and potential.
The veteran Dutch coach has been in the hunt for a new top-quality centre-back since he arrived at Old Trafford, but has yet to secure the services of a replacement for either Ferdinand or former captain Nemanja Vidic.
Van Gaal has doubts over all three of his first-choice central defenders - Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans - due to their lack of progress and inability to stay fit.
Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett, meanwhile, are still raw and inexperienced. Argentina international Marcos Rojo, the only out-and-out defender Van Gaal has signed, has shown signs of quality since arriving from Sporting Lisbon but perhaps lacks that little bit of class to cement his status as one of United’s first-choice defenders for the next five to 10 years.
Other clubs interested
However Laporte - who is also on the radar of Real Madrid, Arsenal and Chelsea - turns 21 in May and could feasibly be a member of Manchester United’s first-team squad for the next 10 to 15 years - which would make the initial £31 million outlay eventually look a relative bargain.
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