LONDON // Roman Abramovich has underlined his intention to go head-to-head with the two Manchester clubs in the summer transfer market by offering €35 million (Dh185.5m) for the Udinese forward Alexis Sanchez.
City had prioritised the purchase of Sanchez – who has also been courted by Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus – and met with Udinese last week in a failed attempt to complete the transfer.
United have also held talks about bringing the Chile international to Old Trafford, though Ferguson is yet to make a formal offer and is expected to direct significantly more of his transfer budget towards Modric.
Following discussions with Sanchez's agent, United are confident that they are the 22-year-old player's preferred destination, should he move to the Premier League, and that only Barcelona precede them as a suitor.
Barca now face a decision between reinforcing their attack with Sanchez or Villarreal striker Guiseppe Rossi, with whom they have already agreed personal terms.
Having failed to conclude a transfer fee for Rossi during a series of discussions with Villarreal over the previous fortnight, however, there were reports in Barcelona last night that Sanchez was due at the Camp Nou tomorrow to take a medical.
While Villarreal are still to agree a fee for Rossi, United have been kept informed of the progress of that deal as they retain a buy-back option on Rossi as part of the Italian's 2007 transfer to the Spanish side.
City were told they were third in line for Sanchez's signature before Chelsea entered the bidding, and have been monitoring the situation with increasing anxiety. According to a source involved in the negotiations, Sanchez is pushing to join Barca or United, and will demand higher wages if Udinese elect to sell him elsewhere.
Further complicating the process is Udinese's strong financial position. Famed for their policy of securing global talent at a low price and selling for significant profit, the Serie A club are under no fiscal pressure to sell Sanchez and are happy to allow an auction to develop as they prepare themselves for Champions League competition next season.
Chelsea's movement in the transfer market comes as they are working on Guus Hiddink's release from his position as Turkey national team coach. The club have also entered negotiations with Anderlecht for the signing of Romelu Lukaku, an 18-year-old Belgium striker.
Strong competition from Real Madrid means that Abramovich's chances of recruiting Neymar have diminished. The 19-year-old Brazil international is more interested in moving to the Bernabeu than to Stamford Bridge, and has been placed alongside Sergio Aguero as a glamour signing by Florentino Perez, the Real president.
Real are near to completing the purchase of Fabio Coentrao from Benfica.
The Portugal international can play on the left flank as well as in the centre of midfield. Benfica are considering an offer of €22m plus a choice of one of the Argentine pair Ezequiel Garay and Fernando Gago or Pablo Sarabia, the Spanish defender.