By Greg Stobart
Manchester United are in pole position in the race to sign Dinamo Zagreb sensation Mateo Kovacic, Goal.com has learned.
Sir Alex Ferguson is taking a personal interest in United's pursuit of the 17-year-old attacking midfielder, who is being tracked by the biggest clubs across Europe including Arsenal, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
United have made their interest in Kovacic known to both his club and representatives after scouting him several times and are confident of beating off the competition for the Croatian teenager's signature.
Ferguson is not planning to make a bid for Kovacic in the January transfer window but will keep a close eye on the Croatia Under-21 international's performances with a view to making a move as early as next summer.
Kovacic, who has been compared to compatriot Luka Modric, is already rated at £10 million by Dinamo, who claimed in the summer that Arsenal backed away from a deal because their valuation was too expensive.
“United have made it clear they are looking at Kovacic in a big way and they think he is a future star,” a source told Goal.com. “His age and price tag means January will probably be too soon but the feedback is that the player's preference would be a move to Old Trafford and United are favourites to sign him.”
The Premier League champions were given encouragement last month when the Kovacic's agent, Marcel Kacinari, told Goal.com his client is most likely to move to England.
"It is most likely that he will go to England where the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United are leading the race," Kacinari said. "Dinamo Zagreb have done business in the past with several Premier League teams."
United wanted to sign a playmaker in the summer and were strongly linked with Tottenham schemer Modric and Inter's Wesley Sneijder. Central midfield remains an area Sir Alex would like to address despite the emergence of Tom Cleverley, while youngsters Paul Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe have been tipped for stardom and could be promoted to the first-team squad next season.
Kovacic is already a first-team regular in the Dinamo Zagreb side and become the club's youngest debutant and goalscorer when he found the net in the 6-0 win over Hrvatski Dragovoljac in November 2010.