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Manchester United have agreed a deal that will see Michael Ballack join the club at the start of the 2006-07 season.

According to a report in today’s Guardian newspaper, Ballack has provisionally agreed a deal which will permit him to sign pre-contract agreement at Old Trafford next January.

Ballack would represent the perfect replacement for Roy Keane, who, although described by United boss Sir Alex Ferguson as “irreplaceable”, is approaching the end of his Old Trafford career.

United believe they have a gentleman’s agreement in place and have received firm assurances that Ballack will be joining.

United do have the option of signing the German international captain immediately, but Bayern have imposed a prohibitive £8m transfer fee to deter would-be suitors. However, with Ballack a free agent in 12 months time, United believe the wait is justified.

It is a gamble on United’s part and one which could see them usurped by a number of Europe’s leading clubs, although the midfielder is reported to have made up his mind to move to Old Trafford.

United have spent lightly this summer with Holland international goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar from Fulham, the South Korean international winger Park Ji-sung and a reserve goalkeeper, Ben Foster, from Stoke City, being the only arrivals at the club.

Ferguson admitted that there may be another deal before the transfer window closes on August 31. “You never know,” he said. “It’s a possibility. We are searching our minds but identification is no sweet thing.”

One possible addition is Real Madrid’s unsetttled striker Michael Owen. The former Liverpool forward is desperate to leave Madrid and is looking for a return to England. With Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea showing no interest in the player, the way is open for United to make a bid.

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