Chelsea's clout has Real on back foot

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The Independent Football

The nine-times European champions are struggling to match Chelsea's financial muscle as the English champions' opening £32m bid proves, while for Gerrard himself the shine may have been taken off a move to Madrid by their recent failure to win any worthwhile silverware.

Gerrard's inspirational role in the remarkable victory over Milan in the final of the Champions' League has given him a global profile that allows him to be bracketed alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham.

After two barren seasons Real are keen to inject new blood into a tired and ageing squad. And at 25, and close to the peak of his powers, Gerrard fits the bill.

For months Real have been using the Madrid sports papers to keep Gerrard's name in the headlines in the hope of luring him to the Bernabeu. The build-up to him saying he wanted to leave Liverpool was eerily familiar to that which preceded the signings of Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham.

Both Real's coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, and their director of football, Arrigo Sacchi, admireGerrard, while the president, Florentino Perez, is desperate to live up to his promise to add another galactico to the collection this summer.

The sports dailies AS and Marca have been trying to do their bit by claiming for several months that Gerrard prefers Real and there had been a widespread feeling in Spain that the midfielder would be reluctant to join another club in the Premiership.

Much too has been made of the SFX link. Gerrard is a client of the same sports agency that brought Beckham, Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate to the Bernabeu, and Real have good relations with the group. But despite the wall-to-wall press coverage and the positive pointers to a move to the Bernabeu, for the first time in many years Real look unlikely to get their man.

Firstly, the Spaniards have been taken aback by the size of Chelsea's opening offer and despite their assurances that their economic situation is healthier than it has been for years, they simply cannot compete with Roman Abramovich in a bidding war. Real need to sell before they can buy and the recent sale of the Argentinian midfielder Santiago Solari to Internazionale will do little to boost their coffers. They are also unwilling to break their galactico salary limit of £4m and run the risk of sparking a new round of contract demands from players.

On the playing side, Real have ample cover in central midfield. Thomas Gravesen, who joined from Everton in January at Sacchi's request, has done well. The Dane was one of the principal reasons for the side's revival in the second half of the season and only a week ago the hard-nosed Uruguayan international Pablo Garcia was recruited to add further bite.

With Zidane and Beckham already assured of starting places and Luis Figo and Guti still on the books, the addition of Gerrard would give them a surfeit of midfield talent. And if Real manage to pressure Santos into releasing the highly rated young forward Robinho, Raul would have to drop deep and add further to the competition for places.

Gerrard may consult his close friend and former team-mate Michael Owen, but the England striker is unlikely to give an unequivocal recommendation of a move abroad.

Although he has hardly put a foot wrong when on the pitch, Owen's future at the club is still unclear and Robinho's arrival could see him revert to the role of supersub once more. With the World Cup a year away, Owen may be tempted to depart in search of a guaranteed first-team place.

Owen's experience will serve as a warning to Gerrard and, despite the presence of Beckham in the Real midfield, a partnership with Frank Lampard is likely to prove more tempting to the Liverpool captain.