Manchester City are plotting to lure Wayne Rooney from Manchester United in what would be a landmark transfer that could not only cause a seismic power shift in the city but to the Premier League.
Rooney's advisers have not been shy in allowing news of the 24-year-old striker's unsettled status at United to leak out into the public domain.
The fact that Rooney's talks with United over a new contract have broken down, along with his deteriorating relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, has immediately led to reports the striker is ready quit the club, even as soon as the January transfer window.
City last night declined to comment on the issue, but it is understood they will be ready to make a move even if it means coming close to shattering the £100 million (Dh585m) transfer barrier and paying Rooney more than £200,000 a week.
City certainly have the spending power to attract Rooney, thanks to their Abu Dhabi owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, and the move is in line with the club's transfer policy - before this summer at least - of targeting big-name players from their title rivals.
They previously signed Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor from Arsenal, Carlos Tevez from United and were close to securing a deal for Chelsea's John Terry. They have also been linked with Fernando Torres of Liverpool.
City would see the acquisition of Rooney as a move that would take them to the next level and help fulfil the ambition of ending 34 trophyless years by winning the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League.
The loss of the England forward could have a devastating impact on United, with the club's fans already disgruntled with the American owners, the Glazer family, who have saddled the club with huge debt.
However, that financial predicament - earlier this month they announced an £83.6m annual loss - may be one of the contributing factors in United's possible decision to sell.
The move may have wider ranging consequences, including to Ferguson's position as manager. The Scot will be unwilling to sell his prized asset, especially to title rivals. Ferguson has had falling outs with players in the past - Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy among them - but they have always resulted in the player moving away from England.
Rooney, however, is less likely to be willing to move abroad and he is no stranger to antagonising the fans who adore him. He left Everton, his boyhood club, for United in 2005, having previously stated his love for the team. City are no strangers to big money bids for players. They still hanker for a platinum player who can not only give the team an extra dimension on the pitch, but also enhance their kudos and commercial viability off it. However, there is a long-term goal to sign a core of English players, demonstrated by the arrivals of the likes of James Milner and Adam Johnson.
Rooney fits the bill on both counts despite his recent loss of form which has coincided with lurid revelations about his private life, which in turn have caused a rift between him and Ferguson.
But it is not just that and the fact Rooney has been sidelined by the United manager in recent weeks. Money is also playing a major part.
Rooney is on a basic wage at United of around £90,000 a week, which is some way off the amount earned by Terry and Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
City now have several players earning way over the £100,000 a week mark.
When City moved for Terry last season they were prepared to pay a £50m fee and give the centre half £160,000 a week. Terry eventually decided to stay at Chelsea on £120,000 a week. But that is about as much as United are likely to offer Rooney in any new deal.
It is understood the player had been looking for closer to £150,000 at United.
Inevitably Rooney has also been linked with the cream of Europe's club's - most notably Real Madrid, who signed Ronaldo from United for £80m two summers ago.
But yesterday the Spanish giants insisted they would not make a move for the England international.
"In January, there will be no new arrivals and no departures," Jorge Valdano, Real's sporting director, said.
Falling out with Ferguson
Ince enjoyed several fine seasons marshalling United’s midfield and was well liked by the club’s fans but Sir Alex Ferguson did not buy into the “Guv’nor” persona he had created for himself. Ince was sold to Inter Milan and later labelled a “big time Charlie” by Ferguson.
Won three league titles, an FA Cup and the Champions League during his time in Manchester. However, some less than discreet comments in his autobiography did not meet with Ferguson’s approval and he cashed in on the Dutch defender to the tune of £16.5 million (Dh96.5m).
Beckham’s relationship with Ferguson was long and complex, starting when he arrived at the club as a youth player and ending when he had become a global celebrity. Ferguson was suspicious of Beckham’s off-field exploits and tensions reached fever pitch when Beckham was left with a cut above his eye following a dressing room spat. He eventually left for Real Madrid in 2003.
In terms of dressing room influence, Keane was probably the only player thought to be impervious to a Ferguson cull. Perhaps at the peak of his powers – as midfield enforcer and inspirational captain – he would have been. As it was, in the autumn of his career, he put Ferguson’s nose out of joint with several outbursts and a rant against his teammates on the club’s TV channel. Had his contract terminated by mutual consent.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
A goalscoring phenomenon during his five years at Old Trafford, Van Nistelrooy was another central figure eventually considered dispensable by Ferguson. Ferguson shipped the Dutch striker off to Real Madrid after withdrawing him from the first XI and being unhappy with his reaction. A reported row with Cristiano Ronaldo, another superstar whom Ferguson packed off to the Bernabeu, was also a potential factor.