United follow Little Buddha

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Manchester United are being credited with surprise interest in Espanyol midfielder Ivan De la Pena.

'The Little Buddha' was one of the most promising players in Europe when breaking through at Barcelona but, after failing to shine at Lazio and Marseille, his career seemed in decline.

Yet the classy playmaker has rebuilt his reputation with Espanyol and was recently called up to the Spain national squad by coach Luis Aragones.

The 28-year-old has been a key figure for the Montjuic club this term as they lie in sixth place in the table, pushing for a place in Europe.

As he is under contract until 2007, De la Pena would be in no rush to leave Espanyol after reviving his fortunes in Barcelona.

However, informed sources in Spain are indicating that United have been very impressed by the midfielder's displays this season.

It is common knowledge that the Premiership side have sent scouts to watch Espanyol regularly with goalkeeping coach Tony Coton following the progress of Cameroon number one Carlos Kameni very closely.

With United represented at the recent matches with Racing Santander and Sevilla, it is being speculated that the Old Trafford outfit are not merely focusing their attention on Kameni.

Chief executive David Gill has stressed there is no money available for transfers until Sir Alex Ferguson raises funds but De la Pena's clever passing and probing might be viewed as a missing ingredient from a side that is struggling to create and convert chances at present.