LONDON // Arsenal face a further threat to their continued employment of Cesc Fabregas, with Inter Milan, the European champions, preparing for a summer recruitment of the club captain.
Concerned by the team's travails following the departure of Jose Mourinho, Inter's hierarchy have drawn up an ambitious plan to revitalise a squad that won a Champions League-crowned treble last season but has dropped down the Serie A table under new coach Rafa Benitez.
Inter were uncharacteristically inactive in the summer transfer market, attempting to curtail spending in the belief that the team could replicate its achievements of the previous campaign.
There is now an acceptance that the policy was mistaken and the squad requires new blood, coupled with growing concerns that Benitez was the wrong man to succeed Mourinho.
Questions have been raised about the Spaniard's training methods following a spate of muscular injuries, his man management and his tactics. Hired on an unusually short two-year contract, Benitez is in danger of being jettisoned before he reaches its halfway point if matters do not significantly improve.
Inter have already been in contact with Pep Guardiola, expressing their admiration of his work at Barcelona, and asking him to keep them informed of his future plans.
Guardiola is unique amongst Europe's elite managers in having less than a year to run on his contact after consistently avoiding committing himself to a new, longer-term deal at Camp Nou.
Moreover his working environment has become considerably more testing following Mourinho's arrival at Real Madrid - where the Portuguese coach remains unbeaten - and the election of Sandro Rossell as Barcelona president. There has been significant tension between Rossell and Guardiola over transfer policy and the future direction of the club.
Should Benitez prove himself a failure, Massimo Moratti, the Inter president, is hopeful of enticing Guardiola to Italy by offering him a new project at the San Siro.
The principal transfer target would be Fabregas; a fellow Catalan who grew up in Barca's academy admiring Guardiola's studied midfield play.
Fabregas, 23, is contracted to Arsenal until 2015, but would have left the club for Barca last summer had the London club not rejected a formal offer of €35 million (Dh180m) for the player. Barca decided not to increase their bid once Rossell took control of the club and exposed the profligate spending of the previous regime.
The midfielder's importance to Arsenal is such that Arsene Wenger has regularly asked him to play through injuries over the past 18 months.
While Fabregas has consistently stated his affection for the club and his respect for the manager, he has also been clear on his frustration with Arsenal's five-season trophy drought.
Few expect him to pursue his career in north London indefinitely.
The Gunners travel to Goodison Park today to face Everton in a typically tough away fixture.
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