United step up pursuit of Nasri
Manchester United yesterday began talks with Samir Nasri's representatives, as their early summer activity continued to frustrate Arsenal and leave other clubs trailing in their wake.
The talks in Manchester were only exploratory, conducted among intermediaries from both sides, and did not include the Frenchman's agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes.
But United's willingness to open negotiations with a midfielder who appears to have concluded that he has no future at Arsenal suggests they may be ready to capitalise on an opportunity in the transfer market.
The 23-year-old, who was superb in the first half of last season, will fall out of contract next summer and will therefore come cheap -- possibly as little as £8m.
United hold a fair number of the cards if their interest firms up.
Chelsea have indicated that they are not interested in signing the player, who joined Arsenal in 2008, but it is understood that he does want to stay in England.
With United's £17m deal to gain the signature of Ashley Young all but completed last night, Nasri appears to be just one of a number of options.
The prospect of Wesley Sneijder moving to Old Trafford remains a genuine one, with Chelsea seemingly not interested in signing him from Internazionale. Neither can a move for Tottenham's Luka Modric be ruled out, even though Chelsea may offer competition for him.
United are keeping their options open, with the past 48 hours underlining Alex Ferguson's resolve to do far more than merely tinker with his squad as he sets about getting closer to the standard Barcelona attained in last month's Champions League final.
However, there has as yet been no official approach from United to Arsenal about Nasri.
The losers in the Nasri saga are again the Gunners, who had retained some hope that he would be willing to give them first refusal on his continued services and consider any new deal they put before him when he returned from international duty with France, for whom he played a friendly in Poland last night.
But Nasri is evidently dissatisfied by the events of last season, feels that he will not collect silverware by staying in north London and had sanctioned yesterday's discussions.
It would be a bitter blow for Arsene Wenger if United do take the Frenchman, in the week that he lost Blackburn Rovers' Phil Jones to his old adversary, Ferguson -- despite several phone calls made in an attempt to wrest him out of United's grasp.
Nasri's departure would also leave Arsenal more in need than ever of holding on to Cesc Fabregas.
The Spaniard's departure to Barcelona is slightly less likely this summer than last but just as Nasri's representatives arrived in Manchester yesterday, the usual summer noises from Catalonia began, linking Fabregas with the European champions.
Arsenal would sell him if they receive an offer of at least £45m.
"He's a great player and he's a player from Barcelona because he already knows the language we speak on the pitch," said Gerard Pique on a day when the Spanish papers were full of talk of Fabregas finally returning to the capital of Catalonia. "He is a great friend of mine and of course I want him to end up wearing the Barcelona shirt."
Fabregas is expected to holiday in Ibiza this summer with Pique and Carles Puyol, as he did last year.
The prospect of Nasri simply positioning himself for an improved six-figure deal at Arsenal cannot entirely be ruled out.
Wenger has said of the player: "One thing's for sure -- we're not selling him to Manchester United."
But Nasri responded to that on French television at the weekend.
"Let's find out if their interest is true first," he said. "Then we'll talk about it. I don't know if I will sign a new contract. Anyway, the discussions are ongoing.
"Do I want to go to United? We should see if their interest is real and if it is concrete first."
Arsenal respect Nasri and believe he would not try to negotiate a better deal publicly.
The contracts of both Nasri and his compatriot Gael Clichy expire next summer and the Londoners hope to tie them to five-year deals worth £90,000 a week.
Some sources suggest Manchester City are interested in Nasri as well as Fabregas, though suggestions that both players might be signed were rejected by the club yesterday.
City have pulled out of their pursuit of Udinese's Alexis Sanchez, with the player valued at £35m by the club's chairman.
Barcelona is now the likely destination for the Chilean. (© Independent News Service)