City turn to Belhanda as Eden project hits the skids

Ian Herbert

MANCHESTER CITY have identified the Montpellier midfielder Younes Belhanda as a back-up target, with their pursuit of Eden Hazard, one of the continent's brightest talents, proving more difficult than the club had first anticipated.

The Moroccan Belhanda, 22, is a key cog of the Montpellier side which is in position to ruin the title hopes of the Qataris who have invested heavily in Paris St-Germain.

City are beginning to apply themselves to the possible acquisition of the £7m-rated Morocco international because, after two months' hard pursuit of the 21-year-old Hazard, the demands of the player's representatives are becoming a source of concern.

Hazard, for whom Tottenham Hotspur made the early running, with Alex Ferguson another self-professed enthusiast, was always likely to be an expensive acquisition, with a price tag of around £30million. But it is understood that his agent is demanding that Hazard be placed among the club's highest earners - something the club will not accede to.

Belhanda would be a far cheaper option because this has been his first genuinely big campaign.

The core of René Girard's Montpellier side is the generation of young players who lifted the French youth cup in 2009, and Belhanda, whom Girard has compared to Robert Pires, is foremost among them.

Like Samir Nasri he is versatile, with the ability to work the flanks and as a playmaker. But he is at his best operating behind a lone striker.

With 12 goals and six assists, he boasts a superior record to the €43m Javier Pastore, the most expensive of PSG's summer recruits.

There is evidence that he would bring City another combustible character, though. Belhanda was sent off amid a mass brawl last week and could face a prolonged ban for punching Evian's Cédric Mongongu.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of Belhanda: "I love this player, but I do not want to create problems. Montpellier will decide if he leaves. Once that happens we might look at him."

Belhanda, who has two years left on his contract, said: "My dream is to play in England or Germany. Everybody wants to play in the Premier League."