Manchester United boss David Moyes is believed to have been scouting Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke after being spotted watching the Rojiblancos’ Champions League victory over Porto.
Atletico won 2-0 to further cement their position as Group G winners, but it was Moyes’ attendance at the game that set tongues wagging, with speculation that he was there to see Koke in action.
The Atletico youth graduate has been a revelation this season, cementing his place as a key member of a side that has eased through to the last-16 of the Champions League and is currently joint top of the Primera Division standings, while also featuring in all seven of Spain’s qualifying and friendly games since making his senior debut in August.
United would need to pay 20 million euros to prise Koke from Atletico as he has a release clause in his current deal, which runs until 2018, but the playmaker himself insisted after completing the 90 minutes against Porto in a deeper role than usual, that he was unaware of and unmoved by any potential interest from the English giants.
“I did not know anything about it,” Koke told Canal Plus. “Neither does it bother me. I signed a new contract last summer.”
Atletico sporting director Jose Luis Caminero played down the visit, saying it was most likely the United boss was running the rule over a potential opponent for later in the competition.
“I suppose that David Moyes has come to see a Champions League team like us,” Caminero said. “They have qualified for the last 16. We have spoken, but he did not tell me exactly why he was here.”
Koke is the latest in a long list of players Moyes and his coaching staff have watched as United look to bounce back from a difficult summer transfer window -- public pursuits of Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera all ended in disappointment -- by securing a big-name January signing.
Assistant manager Steve Round and first-team coach Jimmy Lumsden went to scout Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus when the Champions League finalists beat Napoli last month, while Phil Neville, another of United’s first-team coaches, has paid a trip to Madrid to watch Real’s Sami Khedira, for whom the Premier League champions bid in the summer, but who is now injured.
United are also believed to have monitored Roma midfielders Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman. However, Moyes is known for attending as many games as he can and scouting players assiduously before making offers for them.
Athletic Bilbao midfielder Herrera reportedly remains on the Premier League champions’ radar too, though the player has spoken recently about how he is happy now at his hometown club.