Manchester City will resist all attempts by Real Madrid to lure Sergio Aguero from the Etihad Stadium this summer amid claims that the Argentinian forward is unsettled in England and keen to move to the Bernabeu.
Senior figures at City took the rare step yesterday of dismissing out of hand reports in Spain that the 23-year-old, a £34m signing from Atletico Madrid last summer, would welcome a return to the Spanish capital because of problems adjusting to life in the north-west of England.
While the City futures of forwards Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko are uncertain, with all three potentially available for transfer this summer, the club's Abu Dhabi hierarchy will not entertain the prospect of selling Aguero.
Aguero, expected to overcome badly blistered feet in time to face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, has been a huge success during his first season at City, scoring 24 goals in 41 appearances.
But with growing speculation emanating from Spain linking Aguero with a move to Real, City sources stressed last night that the club had "no intention" of selling the player and insisted that he and his family were happy in England.
Recent comments by Diego Maradona, Aguero's father-in-law, that the player made a "mistake" in signing for City, have fuelled the belief in Spain that he would be open to a move to Real.
Maradona said Aguero "has to play for Real Madrid. Even though he is flying at City, the best thing would have been to sign for Madrid. He made a mistake. Now, as he is doing so well, it will be difficult to get him from City.
"However if Madrid want someone, they get them. (President) Florentino Perez has no limits. It's a question of convincing City -- but not with money because they have plenty of that."
Real's tactic of allowing speculation over a summer target to develop while publicly denying any interest has already been evident in relation to Aguero in recent weeks.
During their ultimately successful pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was highly critical of Real's methods, claiming he "wouldn't sell that mob a virus".
The Spanish sports newspaper 'Marca', which continues to have a close relationship with Real, claimed last month that a player-plus-cash deal involving striker Gonzalo Higuain was already being mooted in an effort to persuade City to sell Aguero.
Real coach Jose Mourinho and director Emilio Butragueno have both denied that attempts are being made to trade Higuain for Aguero, but Real's interest is long-standing and the player is understood to have preferred a move to the Bernabeu last summer before being told by Atletico that a direct transfer across the city was out of the question.
Aguero has repeatedly stated his desire to remain at City, however, insisting last month that he is happy at the club. And when told of Real's apparent plans to use Higuain as bait for Aguero, City manager Roberto Mancini made it clear that he would not sanction the player's sale.
Mancini said: "Higuain is another top player, but we don't want to sell Aguero for anything. It's impossible for us to sell him. He will stay here, but if Higuain wants to come here, then we are happy."
Aguero could be the only City forward to remain at the club beyond the summer.
Tevez, recently restored to the first-team squad after apologising for his conduct at the club this season, is expected to be allowed to leave if City's valuation is met by interested parties.
AC Milan pulled out of a bid to sign Tevez in January due to City's £28m asking price, but with the player entering the final two years of his contract this summer, his fee could drop to about £20m.
Balotelli is available should City receive offers in excess of £20m for the troublesome Italian, while Dzeko, a £27m signing from Wolfsburg in January 2011, is understood to have become unhappy with his inability to secure regular football at the club, and a return to Germany with Borussia Dortmund is a possibility.
Attempts to offload Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, on loan at Tottenham and Real Betis respectively, will continue as City look to raise money through player sales to fund the purchase of attacking reinforcements.
Higuain is rated highly by Mancini, while City have a long-standing interest in Arsenal forward Robin van Persie and Napoli's Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani.
Aguero, however, is regarded as a cornerstone of City's future plans. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Signed: £34m, Atletico Madrid, Aug 2011 Goals per game for City: 24 gls / 41 apps Prospects: Real Madrid will push hard, but City have no intention of selling.
Signed: £32m, unattached, Jul 2009
Goals per game for City: 52 gls / 96 apps Prospects: Likely to leave, but who knows? If manager changes, he might stay.
Signed: £27m, Wolfsburg, Jan 2011
Goals per game for City: 24 gls / 61 apps Prospects: Unhappy at bit-part role and Borussia Dortmund keen to take him back to Germany.
Signed: £24m, Inter Milan, Aug 2010
Goals per game for City: 27 gls / 58 apps Prospects: City will sell if they can find a buyer. But who will risk £20m-plus on Mad Mario?
Signed: £25m, Arsenal, Jul 2009
Goals per game for City: 19 gls / 45 apps Prospects: Spurs want to turn his loan in a permanent deal, but £15m fee could be an issue.
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