Manchester United are believed to be on the verge of agreeing a deal to sign Benfica centre-back Ezequiel Garay at the end of the season.

Spanish newspaper Marca has reported that Sir Alex Ferguson has been paying close attention to the former Real Madrid defender and would like the 26-year-old to be a long-term replacement for Rio Ferdinand.

Ezequiel Garay
Ezequiel Garay holds off Lionel Messi in a Champions League game earlier this season [Reuters]

The England international is out of contract at the end of the season but it is expected that Manchester United will offer him a new one-year deal.

However, Ferdinand is entering the latter stages of his career and it seems as though Manchester United are already thinking about life without the former Leeds centre-back.

Marca has reported that while Benfica rate the defender at €30million, United have made an offer of around half that amount and must now further negotiate with the Portuguese side.

Garay has excelled since moving to Benfica in the summer of 2011 and this season has helped the club move to the top of the league as they battle it out with great rivals Porto for the title.

The Argentina international's impressive form has also been witnessed in the Champions League were he impressed in both ties against Barcelona but was unable to help the club qualify for the knockout stages.

Manchester United may now look to take advantage of the fact that Benfica struggle to make an impact in the European competition and will hope that the draw of competing for league titles and the Champions League will be enough to draw him to England.

The fee may be a sticking point though as Garay's former club Real Madrid have a sell-on clause in his contract which means they will receive a percentage of the transfer fee should be move.

Therefore the Portuguese club will be determined to drive up his fee which could mean that negotiations go on for some time.

Manchester United have had a habit of conceding goals this season and with Ferdinand seemingly coming towards the end of a very successful career, it seems Ferguson is keen to find a solution.