Manchester United have made a straight opening bid for Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos, offering just over £30m, considerably less than the Spanish club's £46m valuation.
United believe the defender's age - he is 29 - makes even a £40m figure too high.
But their determination to capitalise on his apparent desire to leave Madrid has led them to make a bid.
It stands independent from any attempt by Real Madrid to sign United goalkeeper David De Gea.
The size of United's bid for Ramos is viewed at the Spanish end as a "serious" one.
Though the offer is lower than Madrid are prepared to accept, it seems likely to be the first move in a process of negotiation which could ultimately involve De Gea, whom the Spanish side desperately want.
Revelation of the bid also shows the duplicity of Madrid in their dealings with Ramos. The club have, to date, denied any bid has come in.
Though the club's stance has been that they will only allow him to leave if he pays his £180m buy-out clause, there is no sense they want to keep him.
United are wary of being played by Ramos, who has been demanding a new contract at the Bernabeu.
But they received further encouragement after a meeting between player and Real officials yesterday morning, in which he insisted that they listen to offers for him to leave.
The meeting at the club's Valdebebas training ground, between Madrid chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez, Ramos and his brother and agent Rene, was intended to reach a truce in the increasingly strained relations between the two sides.
No reconciliation was achieved and Ramos's departure was - significantly - described as near inevitable on Tuesday by Pedro Riesco, who works alongside agent Rene Ramos.
"With everything that has happened it will be very difficult for Ramos to stay at Madrid," Riesco told Radio Marca.
The battle over Ramos's future centres on his contract, which runs until 2017 and sees him pick up €5.5m (£3.9m) net a season. Real are understood to be willing to pay him €7m (£5.3m) but Ramos believes he is worth more and cannot understand the club allowing him to enter the last two years of his contract.
The defender views the negative press he has received this week, including accusations that he is failing to "respect the badge" of Madrid, to have been orchestrated by the club president, Florentino Perez.