- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

LONDON (AP) - Manchester United accepted a world-record transfer offer for Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid on Thursday, clearing the FIFA player of the year to negotiate terms with the Spanish club.

The Premier League champions said it received an unconditional offer of 80 million pounds, or $131 million, for the 24-year-old midfielder. Unlike last offseason, Manchester United is willing to allow the Portuguese star to join a major European rival seeking to build a new era of “Galacticos.”

“At Cristiano’s request _ who has again expressed his desire to leave _ and after discussion with the player’s representatives, United have agreed to give Real Madrid permission to talk to the player,” United said in a statement. “Matters are expected to be concluded by 30 June.”

It was the second major move for Real Madrid this week, following the acquisition of Brazilian star Kaka from AC Milan, which sold the 27-year-old midfielder for a transfer fee said to be 65 million euros, or $92 million.

And Real Madrid may not be done. It was said to be negotiating to obtain 27-year-old forward David Villa from Valencia.

Kaka’s deal eclipsed the $65 million Madrid paid Juventus in 2001 for French forward Zinedine Zidane, and the agreement for Ronaldo will smash that.

Madrid confirmed the offer for Ronaldo in a statement, saying: “The club hopes to reach an agreement with the player in the coming days.”

Fans in North America will get a close-up look at the remade team. Real Madrid has preseason exhibitions at Toronto FC on Aug. 7 and against D.C. United two days later at Landover, Md.

Born Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, he has said he was named after Ronald Reagan. Known as much for his brashness _ he fakes dives to try to win fouls and winked after getting Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney sent off at the 2006 World Cup _ as his brilliant play on both the left and right sides of the field, Ronaldo joined United from Sporting Lisbon in 2003.

After scoring 42 goals in the 2007-8 season and helping United win both the English Premier League and the European Champions League, he had a lackluster European Championship with Portugal, then pushed for what he called at the time a “dream move” to Madrid.

An unsuccessful complaint about Madrid’s pursuit was made to world governing body FIFA, a move was blocked then by United manager Alex Ferguson, who traveled to Lisbon to persuade his player to stay at Old Trafford. That didn’t stop Ronaldo being linked with Madrid, and Ferguson’s irritation boiled over in December when he said he “wouldn’t sell Madrid a virus,” describing the club as a “mob.”

Ronaldo started the most recent season slowly following ankle surgery and finished with 26 goals as United won its third straight Premier League title but lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final.

He was under contract through the 2011-12 season. But Florentino Perez, who returned as Madrid’s president on June 1, made it clear he wanted to create a second group of “Galacticos” to rival Zidane, Luis Figo and David Beckham, with Ronaldo topping the list.

Madrid finished second to Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga but is considered to be the world soccer’s richest club based on revenue. According to account firm Deloitte, Madrid earned over $512 million in the year ending last June 30, compared to second-place United’s $455 million.

United was acquired by the Glazer family, which owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, from 2003-5 for about $1.47 billion in a highly leveraged deal.

Ronaldo was viewed by some as a divisive influence at United, openly challenging Ferguson’s authority.

In the last weeks of the season he angrily swiped at some TV equipment while shaking his head in annoyance when he was taken out of a match against Manchester City. When he missed a shot against Wigan, he answered Ferguson back from the pitch while shrugging his shoulders.

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