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United focus on Sneijder

MANCHESTER United left for their pre-season tour of North America today with Holland international Wesley Sneijder edging ahead of Samir Nasri, the Arsenal midfielder, as the most likely replacement for the retired Paul Scholes as Old Trafford’s creative heartbeat.

Alex Ferguson last month lodged a £20million offer for Nasri, who flew with Arsène Wenger’s side on their own pre-season venture to Malaysia, in an attempt to take advantage of the stalemate in the France international’s contract negotiations. DETERMINATION That bid remains on the table, but Manchester City’s interest in Nasri, Wenger’s determination to keep the player at Arsenal and Sneijder’s enthusiasm to engineer a move to Old Trafford have made the 27-year-old Inter Milan playmaker a more viable recruit.

Sneijder will this week meet Massimo Moratti, the Inter owner, at the Italian side’s pre-season retreat at Pinzolo to discuss his future. The former Real Madrid and Ajax player is expected to tell the oil magnate that he would consider leaving Italy but only for a club of equal stature on the global stage.That would appear to rule out Malaga, the Arab-owned Spanish side, who are thus far the only team to have made a firm offer for his services after informing Inter they would pay their £32m asking price.

Conversely, Sneijder is prepared to agitate for a move to Old Trafford. Moratti is also expected to convene a meeting of Inter’s board – suggestions in Milan indicate that may be as soon as as Tuesday – to discuss the possibility of allowing a player in the prime of his career to leave San Siro. The tycoon has stressed in recent months the importance of Inter conforming to Uefa’s fair play regulations, while his new manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, is thought to have reservations over how to shoehorn Sneijder in to his preferred 3-4-3 formation.

Those factors may ease Inter’s reluctance to allow arguably their highest-profile player to leave. United traditionally line up more than one player for each position and, on occasion, are prepared to lodge offers for more than one candidate in a bid to ensure Ferguson lands at least one target. In 2006, a deal for Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna was withdrawn only after United were informed they would be able to sign Owen Hargreaves at the end of the season. But while United would have no qualms over withdrawing their offer for Nasri, the club’s preference for investing in young talent does place a question mark over Sneijder.

The Holland international would also command substantial wages — perhaps as much as £200,000 a week, so as to make up for England’s more punitive tax rates — and, at 27, his lack of resale value counts against him. Any deal for Sneijder would only benefit City, who are keen to beat their fierce rivals to Nasri and are thought to be ready to offer the Frenchman as much as £180,000 a week — double his earnings at the Emirates — to spurn both United and his current club. City are also considering a bid for Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero, though sources at the club are adamant no firm offer has yet been made.