Dimitar Berbatov was last night closing in on a move to Fulham after snubbing both Italian champions Juventus and Serie A rivals Fiorentina.
In an extraordinary series of events, the Manchester United striker left England on Wednesday morning to take a medical at Fiorentina. While waiting for a connecting flight in Munich he took a call asking if he would prefer a move to Juventus, who had topped their Serie A rival's offer by bidding £4.5million (Dh26.2m) for the Bulgaria international.
Berbatov immediately re-routed to Turin where he was expected to end Juve's long search for a new striker, only to reconsider his destination again when Martin Jol, the Fulham manager and his former coach at Tottenham Hotspur, asked him to remain in the Premier League. He was back in the UK by late last night.
Fulham are ready to put Berbatov on a contract worth £80,000 a week if he shuns the opportunity to play Champions League football to play for them and were confident of concluding the deal.
The striker - a £30million signing from Tottenham in the summer of 2008 - has been available for transfer for more than a year after Sir Alex Ferguson lost faith in his effectiveness.
Juventus have struggled to reinforce their attack for the coming Champions League campaign, ultimately failing to agree deals with Robin van Persie, despite a prolonged courtship, Luis Suarez or Fernando Llorente.
Fiorentina reacted angrily to the day's events. "ACF Fiorentina announces that it missed the acquisition of the player Dimitar Berbatov after we had reached an agreement with Manchester United and a verbal understanding with the player on his contract," the club said in a statement.
"During today, the English club had granted him written permission to travel to Florence for medical and sign a contract. The player - accompanied by his agent - embarked on a flight to Florence with tickets paid for by the club. But the player never arrived in Florence because of reckless and arrogant actions of other clubs which have nothing to do with the values of honesty, fair play and sporting ethics which lie beyond the boundaries of loyalty.
"As for the player - notwithstanding his characteristics and technical merit - at this point we are happy that he did not come to Fiorentina as he is not worthy of our city, our shirt and the values it represents."
Juventus director general Guiseppe Marotta insisted the club had acted with 'fairness and transparency' towards Fiorentina.
"We have much to discuss with Fiorentina," he told Sky Sport Italia last night.
"We have acted with the maximum fairness and transparency with regard to the market dynamics.
"I reject the allegations from Fiorentina. We entered into the business over Berbatov when we heard that he had refused Fiorentina, and in the meantime there was a proposal by Fulham.
"We made our own, then the player said he preferred to stay in England for family reasons. It was not a rejection.
"We wanted to take advantage of an opportunity that had appeared to us in the market. Many teams were following the player."
Berbatov's four-season career at Old Trafford was writ through with contradictions. He made 108 Premier League appearances for the club, scoring 48 goals and creating many others. He won two English titles and finished the 2010-11 season as the division's leading goalscorer, yet on Ferguson's surplus-to-requirements list.
Over this summer Berbatov slipped to a distant fifth choice in United's cadre of centre forwards behind Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and the newly acquired Van Persie.
"What gives us even more strength are the combinations I have up front," said Ferguson upon signing the latter from Arsenal. "If you go back to the 1999 season when I had Dwight [Yorke] and Andy [Cole], Teddy [Sheringham] and Ole Gunnar [Solskjaer], they were the four best strikers in Europe. I think I'm getting towards that now. I've got Chicharito, Wayne, Robin, Danny Welbeck and Kagawa. It's a fantastic collection of players."
In a rare pre-season appearance in South Africa with Rooney, Van Persie and Welbeck still on summer holidays, Ferguson employed as a midfield playmaker, preferring to grant time at centre forward to the almost forgotten Bebe.