Manchester United depart today for the club's pre-season tour of North America with Dutch international Wesley Sneijder edging ahead of Arsenal's Samir Nasri as the most likely replacement for the retired Paul Scholes as Old Trafford's creative heartbeat.
Alex Ferguson last month lodged a £20m offer for Nasri, who yesterday flew with Arsene Wenger's side -- minus the injured Cesc Fabregas -- on their own pre-season venture to Malaysia, in an attempt to take advantage of the stalemate in the French star's contract negotiations.
That bid remains on the table, but Manchester City's interest in Nasri, Wenger's determination to keep hold of the player and Sneijder's enthusiasm to engineer a move to Old Trafford have served to make the 27-year-old Inter Milan playmaker a more viable recruit.
Sneijder will this week meet with Inter owner Massimo Moratti at the Italian side's pre-season retreat at Pinzolo to discuss his future. The player, formerly of Real Madrid and Ajax, 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.
New manager Gian Piero Gasperini is thought to have reservations over how to shoehorn Sneijder in to his preferred 3-4-3 formation.
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 In 2006, a deal for the Villarreal's Marcos Senna was withdrawn only after United were informed they would be able to sign Owen Hargreaves.
United's preference for investing in young talent does place a question mark over Sneijder. The Dutch international would also command substantial wages -- perhaps as much as £200,000 a week, to make up for Britain's more punitive tax rates -- and, at 27, his lack of resale value counts against him.
Any deal for Sneijder could benefit City, who are keen to beat their rivals to Nasri and are thought to be ready to offer him as much as £180,000-a-week -- double his earnings at the Emirates. City are also considering a bid for Sergio Aguero, though no offer has been made. (© Daily Telegraph, London)