Chelsea last night lodged a £22m bid for Luka Modric as owner Roman Abramovich made the first move in his attempts to rejuvenate an ageing squad.
The formal offer was rejected by Tottenham within two hours, but the Blues are expected to return with improved terms imminently.
Abramovich -- desperate to add more creativity to Chelsea's midfield and reduce the average age of his squad -- has identified the Croatian playmaker as the priority target.
The Russian is determined to press ahead with the signing despite the fact that he is yet to appoint a replacement for manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Modric has confirmed in recent weeks that Spurs' failure to retain their Champions League status came as a substantial blow to his ambitions and it is believed Harry Redknapp and Daniel Levy, White Hart Lane's manager and chairman, face a fierce battle to hold on to their prize asset.
Manchester United have also registered their interest in Modric, but have turned their attentions to Alexis Sanchez -- who is also on Chelsea's target list -- and Arsenal's Samir Nasri.
Abramovich has decided against bidding for French international Nasri after being offered the midfielder by intermediaries.
Redknapp has already stated that it is crucial for Spurs to retain Modric, describing the playmaker as "key" to his team's fortunes. But he has also knows he has to generate funds to make changes to his side.
Spurs rejected an initial inquiry from Chelsea two weeks ago and, although no bid was made at that time, it is believed an offer close to £35m might tempt them into a deal.
Modric was in stunning form last season and has proved to be one of the most effective players in the Premier League. He arrived at Spurs in 2008 -- signing a six-year deal which he renewed in 2010 -- for £16m from Dynamo Zagreb and given the progress he has made, Chelsea's bid will be regarded as derisory by Levy.
However, it is the opening salvo in Chelsea's attempts to prise Modric away and much will depend on how the player reacts now an official bid has been made.
Chelsea targeted Modric, Sanchez and Neymar as their three bid signings this summer, but have dropped their interest in Sanchez, believing the Chilean winger will now become United's big summer recruit.
Chelsea are battling with Real Madrid to secure Neymar and have to decide whether to bid the €45m which will trigger a release clause in his contract. Abramovich would prefer to pay around €30m, at most, for the 19-year-old but may be outbid by Real. No official offer has been made yet.
Securing Modric, though, is Chelsea's priority. They will have been encouraged by his remarks that "if there is an offer which is good for Tottenham and for me also, then a transfer is of course possible," though the Croat did add that he was not "bothered" or intent on leaving Spurs.
That may now change given Chelsea's eagerness to secure him to provide the creativity to supply striker Fernando Torres. There is a long-held theory at the club that the team lack a player with Modric's guile, though his arrival would break up a hugely settled area of Chelsea's side.
There have been suggestions that Frank Lampard's future is in some doubt after a comparatively disappointing campaign, though it is all but unthinkable that such a key player will be sold. Modric's presence and price, though, would suggest that it is the 25-year-old who will take over the England international's role as the team's creative hub.
Abramovich is also determined to add pace to his managerless side, and a winger will likely follow in Modric's wake.
Chelsea are understood to be close to announcing the signing of Anderlecht striker Romelu Lukaku, widely regarded as a long-term replacement for Didier Drogba. Spurs are interested in the original version, but Chelsea want him to stay for at least one more year. They may, though, be willing to sell Nicolas Anelka.
If Spurs did sell Modric to Chelsea it would cause an outcry from their supporters, given the animosity between the two clubs and may be a damaging statement about their ambitions.
Spurs would rather clear out the likes of Robbie Keane, David Bentley and Sebastien Bassong, with Redknapp accepting Levy's argument that the squad needs to be "streamlined".
It is understood that Abramovich is close to deciding on appointing a new manager. An announcement is expected within the next 10 days and could come a lot sooner.
The expectation remains that Guus Hiddink will secure his release from his contract as Turkey's coach and will be offered a 12-month deal with the option of a further year.
Abramovich has considered making a move for Jose Mourinho and the candidacy of Mark Hughes has also been discussed, although the Russian billionaire is unlikely to choose the former Fulham manager.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa look set to confirm Alex McLeish as their new manager today in the face of angry opposition from their supporters who are protesting at the appointment of the man who just walked away from their fierce rivals.
Hundreds of fans gathered outside the gates of Villa Park last night to vent their frustration over the impending appointment of the former Birmingham City boss -- and 'Bluenose scum not welcome' was scrawled in white paint on the entrance to the training ground.
Villa owner Randy Lerner has pressed ahead regardless of the antipathy and is understood to have met with McLeish in London yesterday after the Scot cut short his holiday.
Talks were described as positive and productive, with more scheduled for last night, and an announcement is expected imminently announcing the 52 year-old as Gerard Houllier's successor. (© Daily Telegraph, London)