Louis van Gaal is reportedly monitoring French starlet Aymeric Laporte, left

Real Madrid have approached Athletic Bilbao regarding a summer move for coveted centre-back Aymeric Laporte, according to reports in Spain.

The 20-year-old defender has garnered a reputation as one of the most promising defenders around Europe during his last two impressive seasons in La Liga and has reportedly caught the eye of many big clubs - including Manchester United, Arsenal and Barcelona.

Arsene Wenger was said to be monitoring his situation before instead making a move for Villarreal centre-back Gabriel Paulista while recent reports claimed Louis van Gaal is also considering him as one of the possible candidates to fill the void left by the summer departures of both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić.

But according to Spanish newspaper MARCA, should the Dutch manager decides to go ahead with his interest in the French starlet, United will face stiff competition from the current Champions League winners to secure his services.

Marca reports Real Madrid have indeed already contacted Athletic Bilbao regarding a move for the centre-back not for this current transfer window but for the summer.

The Spanish newspaper claims that manager Carlo Ancelotti has earmarked Laporte as Pepe's long-term replacement to partner him with his compatriot Raphael Varane.

When Athletic recently called up Real Madrid to express their interest in Real Madrid midfielder Asier Illarramendi, Los Blancos asked to include the young centre-back as part of the deal.

However, Marca says Athletic immediately refused to negotiate Laporte's departure at any price and made the La Liga giants clear that they would just sell the French youngster for his £31m (€42m) release clause.

Manchester United have previous experience of Athletic Bilbao's tough negotiators - they had to pay Ander Herrera's £28m buy-out clause after the Spanish side refused to consider a fee below that price.