Defoe poised to test Chelsea's resolution at the January sales

The transfer window offers clubs both opportunity and temptation. Nick Harris explains who will be going where

If the managers at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are to be believed, the biggest-money moves of the January transfer window could already have come and gone - just three days into the winter sales. The "big three" insist they have no intention of eclipsing the deals which saw Jean-Alain Boumsong move from Rangers to Newcastle for £8m, or James Beattie's £6m switch from Southampton to Everton. And if they don't, it is virtually impossible to see who will.

If the managers at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are to be believed, the biggest-money moves of the January transfer window could already have come and gone - just three days into the winter sales. The "big three" insist they have no intention of eclipsing the deals which saw Jean-Alain Boumsong move from Rangers to Newcastle for £8m, or James Beattie's £6m switch from Southampton to Everton. And if they don't, it is virtually impossible to see who will.

Whether they are to be believed is another matter. Precedent suggests the claims should be taken with a gritter's truck of salt. "We're not in the market and not desperate to buy ... I say we're not in the market because I'm not convinced by anyone I want to go for," Arsène Wenger insisted this time last year. Within weeks he had signed Jose Reyes for £10.65m (rising to £17.5m) to break his club's record signing fee.

At Chelsea, Claudio Ranieri was also insisting he would not be buying, before splashing out more than £10m on Scott Parker. At much the same time Ferguson said: "Nobody is paying big more any more and the days of buying clubs being held to ransom are gone now." United were then forced to increase an initial bid of £5.5m to land Louis Saha for £12.8m.

If there is one reason to believe Ferguson this time around, it is because he has no money - unless he sells first. United's board made it very clear last summer that Ferguson's entire season's budget had been blown when he agreed the £27m deal to buy Wayne Rooney. Only the highly unlikely sale of someone like Ryan Giggs would allow Ferguson to spend.

But Arsenal and Chelsea do have money, it is just a question of whether their managers want to spend it. After a succession of errors by his goalkeepers Wenger has been linked to any number of keepers, but insisted again yesterday he would not signing any of them. "I am not looking for another goalkeeper," he said wearily.

He did, however, admit that he could be in the market for a midfielder, depending on the immediate fate of his two Brazilians, Edu who is out of contract in the summer and could leave for Spain, and Gilberto Silva, who has been injured since mid-September. "Gilberto comes back [from recuperating in Brazil] on 10 January, so we will check him then. If he is not fit and Edu decides to go, then we will be short," Wenger admitted.

Wenger is a a huge admirer of Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips, valued at up to £20m, but might prefer to bid again for River Plate's 20-year-old Argentinian international midfielder, Javier Mascherano, who would cost around £8m. A deal was thwarted last summer but could be reignited, though Real Madrid are also interested.

The really big money, though, is still likely to be spent by Chelsea, and the whispers continue that at least one sensational deal may is in the offing. Their principal target is said to be Tottenham's Jermain Defoe, who only moved to White Hart Lane a year ago, but is understood to want a transfer.

Complications abound. Mourinho, a manager with no track record of deceit, has admitted that he admires Defoe but says will not bid this month. And Defoe, who never saw Spurs as his ideal next step after Upton Park, has always had his heart set on a transfer to Highbury, where he believes he can become Arsenal's next Ian Wright, even though Arsenal cannot afford him.

But sources close to Chelsea have confirmed that there are three major targets on their wish-list, with Defoe the only feasible immediate purchase among a trio that also includes Milan's Andrei Shevchenko and Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand. Defoe is also known to be unhappy with his wages at Tottenham, where he receives a basic of around £12,500 a week, compared to the £40,000 earned by his fellow striker, Robbie Keane.

Market observers are divided over what will happen. "I don't think Chelsea will have a dramatic effect, although they might buy if someone unique becomes available," said Jon Smith, the agent who founded the prominent First Artist stable.

Whether Chelsea move for Defoe or not, other moves in and out of Stamford Bridge are increasingly likely. Chelsea have targeted Marseilles' teenage midfielder Ahmed Yahiaoui, thus far unsuccessfully, and have also made an inquiry about Leeds United's 19-year-old goalkeeper, Scott Carson.

Carson, who has rejected a new deal at Elland Road, seems certain to leave Yorkshire this month. Liverpool have had one bid for him rejected, while Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion are also interested. Chelsea would be the most attractive proposition, though, and if Mourinho signed him, Carlo Cudicini may be allowed to move this month rather than in the summer, as was previously planned. Liverpool would be among clubs interested in the Italian goalkeeper.

Liverpool are certainly in the market for a striker (and maybe two) with Real Madrid's Fernando Morientes still at the top of their list, and may be about to make a bid for the Valencia centre-half Mauricio Pellegrino.

Last year the big three spent £43.8m, or 67 per cent of the £65m spent during January's transfer window, but according to estimates compiled by The Independent, other Premiership clubs are likely to spend budgets totalling around £65m by themselves during this year's window.

Newcastle and Everton have begun that process, but both have between £4m and £5m left over. Tottenham Hotspur could find £10m, or treble that if Defoe goes. Liverpool, Aston Villa and Southampton - where Harry Redknapp will recruit a mixture of loans, paid-for players and frees, with Les Ferdinand, just released by Bolton, touted as one - might each find up to £6m, while a handful of others have around £3m.

Among them are Birmingham City, consistently busy players in the transfer market, who are expected to confirm Robbie Blake's £1.5m move from Burnley today subject to the player agreeing personal terms.

Other teams may prefer loan deals, particularly to secure foreign players. Middlesbrough have made inquiries about Internazionale's Greece midfielder Giorgios Karagounis, but appear to have drawn a blank. "We looked at bringing him here on loan but Inter weren't interested in that arrangement so it's gone no further than that," the Boro manager Steve McClaren said yesterday.

Some market observers expect loan signings to be the preferred option for teams fighting for their Premiership survival. The agent Robert Segal thinks there will be some "serious movement" but that trade will be busiest at the bottom of the Premiership. "The first option is to loan rather than buy. Successful loans will become permanent later."

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