Real Madrid are prepared to test Manchester United’s resolve over the future of David de Gea by waiting to sign the goalkeeper on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of next season.
De Gea has yet to commit to a new long-term contract at Old Trafford, despite entering the final 18 months of the deal he signed when arriving at United in an £18.3m transfer from Atletico Madrid in June 2011.
But while European champions Real have identified the 24-year-old as the long-term successor to Iker Casillas, manager Carlo Ancelotti is understood to be happy to retain Casillas and second-choice Keylor Navas as his goalkeeping options next season.
At 33, and with two years left to run on his Real contract, Casillas has returned to favour by reclaiming his position as Ancelotti’s first choice this season and, despite an admission earlier this week that he is keen to play in the United States before the end of his career, the Spain captain is determined to remain at the Bernabeu for at least one more year.
And Costa Rica international Navas, the penalty shoot-out hero of the Central American nation’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals in Brazil last summer, has impressed Ancelotti and his backroom team with his performances when called upon to deputise for Casillas this season.
Real’s readiness to be patient in their pursuit of De Gea is likely to pose a financial dilemma for United, however.
While manager Louis van Gaal and senior figures at Old Trafford insist they are relaxed over De Gea’s contractual situation, any failure to tie him down to a new contract before the start of the 2015-16 season would leave United exposed to the possibility of the Madrid-born goalkeeper signing a pre-contract agreement with a non-Premier League club from next January.
De Gea is understood to be happy in Manchester and prepared to remain in England, but the lure of Real and the prospect of returning to his home city, where his pop star girlfriend Edurne Garcia Almagro is based, is an appealing one.
With neither Bayern Munich nor Chelsea in the market for a new goalkeeper, Real believe they have a clear path to De Gea should the player choose to leave United.
But faced with the prospect of De Gea leaving Old Trafford on a free transfer in June 2016 should he reject offers of a new deal, United may be forced to consider selling the goalkeeper at the end of the season in order to capitalise on his value -- a move which could prompt Real to act this summer.
United, meanwhile, have been dealt a blow to their hopes of luring Gareth Bale from Real with the Wales winger insisting he is happy in Madrid and has no desire to move to Old Trafford.
Former United manager David Moyes made a late attempt to hijack Bale’s move from Tottenham to Real in the summer of 2013, and with the player having been booed by the Spanish club’s supporters in recent weeks, speculation of a renewed move by United has resurfaced.
But Bale has played down the prospect of leaving Real for United by claiming he is happy at the Bernabeu.
"I can't see myself at Manchester United," Bale told Spanish radio. "In an interview recently I was asked if I was happy in Madrid and I said that I was very happy here.
"I have a long contract still to go, I am enjoying myself and we are winning trophies. I want to continue doing this at Real Madrid.
"I feel the support of the Bernabeu. I am going to continue working to show what I am capable of doing on the pitch and so as to win more trophies."
Bale also dismissed suggestions of a fall-out with Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
"There is no rivalry between us,” Bale said. “We have meetings to talk about tactics.
“Normally if there is a free-kick from the left, Cristiano takes it and on the right it would be me. We get on well.”
The transfer window closes in