Liverpool and Arsenal have ruled out a move for Michael Owen and cleared the way for Manchester United to chase the 25-year-old Real Madrid striker.
Real seem ready to sell Owen after signing Julio Baptista and Robinho.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted: "I am looking for a centre-back and not a centre-forward."
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said: "We've not made a bid for Michael Owen. At the moment I am not looking for a striker, but other areas I am looking at."
But United have told Sir Alex Ferguson he can have the funds should he wish.
Real reportedly want at least £11m for England vice-captain Owen, who they bought for £8m plus Antonio Nunez last summer.
It had been claimed Ferguson would have to sell players to finance any transfer moves.
But United chief executive David Gill said: "The money is there for Alex.
"If he identifies a talent that he thinks will improve the squad - and that is the crucial thing - the funds are available."
Gill insisted the Old Trafford takeover by American Malcolm Glazer did not mean United would be limited in the transfer market.
"The Glazers have said that if there is a big player out there who is available, then the money is there to go for him," said Gill.
"We can still afford a lot of money for top players and at the same time we are also able to develop many of our own."
Ferguson currently has four frontline strikers at Old Trafford - Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Alan Smith.
However, he might start to convert Smith into a defensive midfielder with a view to eventually replacing the ageing Roy Keane.
Despite scoring 16 goals in his first season at Real following his move from Liverpool, Owen spent many games on the bench.
And with the World Cup less than a year away, he could decide to move on rather than face the prospect of fighting for a place with Raul, Ronaldo, Robinho and Baptista.
Arsenal - who lost out to Real for Baptista - as well as United, Newcastle and former club Liverpool have all been linked with Owen.
But Liverpool boss Benitez has recently added £7m Peter Crouch to a strikeforce including Djbril Cisse, Fernando Morientes, Milan Baros and Anthony Le Tallec.
Newcastle are in the market for a striker, but they cannot offer Owen Champions League football.
A transfer to Old Trafford would mean England's attacking partnership of Owen and Rooney playing together going into the 2006 World Cup, although Van Nistelrooy would be fighting for his place.