Sir Alex Ferguson has been monitoring Frank Lampard's position at Chelsea and is considering making a sensational summer move for the player, whom he has always admired.
Lampard is understood not to be averse to a switch to Old Trafford this summer and after the player's agent announced that the midfielder would "in no circumstances" be offered a fresh contract to stay at Stamford Bridge beyond this season, a move for a player is a genuine possibility in a summer when the Manchester United midfield will need reinforcing. Lampard is already free to speak to United, as he enters the final six months of his contract.
With Lampard 35 in June, Ferguson would be asking the United board to sanction a deal for a player who would have no sell-on value at a club still struggling under the weight of the Glazer debt. But the immediate results delivered by 29-year-old Robin van Persie have demonstrated the value to United of deviating from the usual club policy of seeking players under the age of 25.
With Paul Scholes looking increasingly likely to retire for good this summer, Lampard would be an attractive prospect.
Ferguson considered bidding for Lampard when he joined Chelsea from West Ham for £11m in 2001 and he has made no secret of his admiration for him over the years. "Lampard is quite an interesting case. He is an exceptional individual," the United manager said in 2005 and with possibly only one year of his own United career to run as he heads into the 2013-14 campaign, he will be tempted by the fact that Lampard offers certainties, unlike a young or overseas player, who may take time to bed in.
Ferguson will feel that the excellent physical condition Lampard has maintained offers potential for him to deliver the same for United that Ryan Giggs has offered through a series of rolling one-year contracts. He would be less of a gamble than Michael Owen, who never entirely shook off injury after arriving in the summer of 2009 on a free transfer, aged 29.
The United manager will also have in mind what Henrik Larsson delivered for him after he was signed on three months' loan in the winter of 2006, at the age of 35. Ferguson said he would have "done anything" to keep the Swede after he fulfilled a pledge to his family to return to Sweden and rejected the manager's requests to extend, in March 2007.
A United move for Lampard this month seems highly unlikely, since Chelsea reflect most clubs in being unwilling to sell to their rivals in mid-season. A two-year QPR deal is equally doomed for that reason, though manager Harry Redknapp has admitted that Lampard is too good to join him at Loftus Road. Chelsea are unlikely to block a move abroad for Lampard this month, if interest from China or the US materialises. The biggest challenge seems to be finding the package that would attract Lampard, who currently earns in excess of £140,000 a week.