NEWCASTLE United boss Bobby Robson is lining up a shock New Year loan swoop for Brazilian superstar Ronaldo.

United are understood to have failed this week in an attempt to land Inter Milan's Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane on temporary terms.

But Robson made it his business to sound out the Italian giants about Ronaldo - his protege during spells at PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona.

Once the world's most expensive player - Inter paid Barca £19.5m for him three years ago - Ronaldo is currently battling back from a career-threatening knee injury.

Robson, who could face competition from Aston Villa, has ruled out any chance of the 24-year-old striker coming to Tyneside before February.

But he confirmed: "I know for a fact he would love to come here and play for me to try to get match fit. There's no point at the moment because he's still injured.''

Hard-up Robson, without injured strike duo Alan Shearer and Carl Cort, has been forced to search the loan markets for reinforcements and was this week also out of luck in a move for Blackburn's Norwegian international Egil Ostenstad.

Robson admits he has agreed to differ with chairman Freddy Shepherd over transfer spending as injury-hit United prepare for a damage-limitation exercise at Arsenal this afternoon.

The United manager has told Shepherd they must "sink or swim together'' if the St. James' Park coffers remain tight shut.

Shepherd is reluctant to splash the cash until the future of the transfer system is finally resolved, which might not be until the new year.

With skipper Shearer facing the possibility of knee surgery for a long-standing tendinitis problem and centre-back Alain Goma also sidelined with a torn calf muscle, Robson has lost his kingpins in attack and defence.

And yesterday Robson conceded he needs "two big players'' to bolster a squad which has this season also suffered the long-term loss of £7m signing Cort and key central defender Nikos Dabizas.

Robson has failed to persuade Shepherd to release major funds, and this week even contacted former club Barcelona in a desperate bid to land a goalscorer.

His frontline problems are compounded by the absence of hamstring victim Kevin Gallacher, which leaves Argentinian Daniel Cordone and 19-year-old newcomer Lomana Lualua as his only recognised senior strikers.

But Robson is anxious to play down any suggestion that the transfer issue has caused a rift with Shepherd. "The board and I don't quite agree - but we'll sink or swim together,'' insisted Robson.

"The chairman knows the situation. He knows we're working with the bare bones. Whether something will be done before the transfer system is sorted out, I don't know.

"We're pushing. I understand clubs not wanting to spend at the moment, but we might have to do that. We need to get two players in - and two big players.

"I still have some money to spend but, with us being a plc, the club will not spend if in a month's time it turns out that the money shouldn't have been spent. The problem is that the European Commission decision over transfers is being delayed all the time.''

Shearer missed his first game in Robson's 15 months in charge when he was ruled out of last Saturday's 1-1 draw at Aston Villa.

Robson confessed: "Losing Alan is the biggest disappointment I've had here. It's been a bleak period for us with injuries and the last thing we wanted was Alan breaking down.

"He has his eyes on next week's home game against Bradford and that's an attitude I love.

"But we don't know how long it's going to take before he's available. It could be a week or two weeks.

"He had a scan which showed the problem has deteriorated since the summer. It needs to settle down and the inflammation needs to go before any thought of a possible steroid injection.

"It would be the third injection for this tendinitis, which our surgeon tells us would have to be the last.

"If the injury recurred, the surgeon would never dream of treating it with a steroid.

"The next course of action would have to be either a long rest or an operation. That's what Alan is facing.

"The injury is getting better every day, but he's a long way from saying he could be available for selection.

"He doesn't like missing out and he'll play with an injury. He played with tonsillitis last season, he's had a cruciate injury and a very bad ankle injury in his time, and he's got a back problem which affects his hamstrings. He's been a brave warrior, but now he's a flogged horse.

"We bought Cort from Wimbledon to play with Alan and Duncan Ferguson. But Ferguson left us and Cort picked up a massive injury. Gallacher would have been useful, but he's still in the process of rehabilitation.

"We've tried to get a striker in on loan, but we've been rebuffed several times. We can't take anyone on loan from the Premiership, so we've been looking at the First Division and abroad.''

Striker Shola Ameobi, 19, whose first-team introduction came early this season with two substitute appearances, has been recalled to the squad.

But Robson stressed he would have no worries about handing Lualua, signed from Colchester in September for £2.25m, only his second senior start for the Magpies.

Cort, meanwhile, could be back in the new year after undergoing hamstring surgery.

Robson said yesterday: "He's having his stitches out today. There's been a slight infection but hopefully that's cleared up.