Tottenham Hotspur face the prospect of Real Madrid raiding them for the third successive year with the Spanish giants interested in signing midfielder Paulinho.
The Brazilian international only joined Spurs last summer, in a £17 million deal, but has already attracted the interest of Real coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Spurs have had to deal with losing Luka Modric and then, of course, Gareth Bale, for a world-record £85 million to Real and would resist any attempt to sign Paulinho.
The 25-year-old is settled in London and is unlikely to want to seek a move but the draw of joining Real will be hard to resist should a bid be tabled.
It had been expected that Real would wait until the summer before bidding for Paulinho but Ancelotti is aware that there is interest from other European clubs to sign him.
Spurs beat off competition from Roma, Inter Milan and CSKA Moscow to acquire Paulinho from the Brazilian club Corinthians after he had starred in last summer’s Confederations Cup.
He will be a key member of Luis Felipe Scolari’s Brazil squad for next year’s World Cup.
Despite Spurs’ difficult campaign so far, with head coach Andre Villas-Boas having been replaced by Tim Sherwood after a series of fall-outs with chairman Daniel Levy, and heavy defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool, Paulinho has been a success.
He was one of seven summer signings, at a cost of £107 million, largely financed by the sale of Bale, with Villas-Boas having targeted Paulinho as the key man in a reshaped midfield.
Real have been involved in two difficult transfer sagas with Spurs and the Premier League club will want to avoid another and hope that any interest in Paulinho will wait until the summer.
Ancelotti is, nevertheless, a huge admirer of the Brazilian and has already made discreet soundings about whether he might be available for transfer.
Spurs are still formulating their plans for the January window which will have altered following Villas-Boas’s departure.
Nevertheless the club are not planning to send Erik Lamela, their record signing with a potential fee of around £30million, on loan despite the Argentine being linked with moves to Spain – to Atlético Madrid – and back to Italy to join Inter.
Lamela was acquired from Roma and there was always the expectation that he would take at least six months to settle in England. The forward is still just 21 and speaks very little English and also took time to settle in Italy before flourishing at Roma.