City reject Chelsea's £20m bid for winger

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Chelsea ended weeks of intense speculation and one source of irritation for Arsène Wenger, last night when they finally lodged an £18m bid for the Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips - but City responded by immediately rejecting the offer.

Chelsea have courted the 23-year-old England international all summer, much to the annoyance of the Arsenal manager who claimed the rest of the Premiership had to wait for the champions' every move before they could implement their own transfer plans.

Now, however, the process of prising Wright-Phillips from Eastlands to west London has begun, even though Chelsea's opening gambit falls short of the £22m valuation placed on the midfielder by his manager, Stuart Pearce.

City rejected the offer last night because they were mystified at the size of the bid - having made it clear over a month ago to Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, that they would not consider parting with their prize asset for £18m.

City insist Wright-Phillips is happy under Pearce. A statement from City read: "Manchester City can confirm we received a bid from Chelsea for Shaun Wright-Phillips which has been immediately rejected.

"We have always stressed that we want Shaun to stay at Manchester City and Shaun himself has always been adamant that he is happy here as the club continue to build on the excellent progress made under Stuart Pearce. We do not encourage any bids for Shaun and both the club and the player remain firmly focused on our preparations for the new season."

For their part, Chelsea view the decision to go public with details of the offer as an attempt by City to force a deal before Pearce takes his first-team squad on a pre-season trip to Thailand tomorrow.

Despite being heavily in debt, City do not have to take Chelsea's bid and are likely to hold out for closer to £22m, or insist that a player is added to the original package. City are £62m in the red, although £44m of that debt is securitised and the remainder is owed to the chairman, John Wardle, who has never burdened the club with repayment demands.

Wright-Phillips, who was due to play in a friendly at Tranmere Rovers last night, has never asked to leave the club and City are believed to have drawn up two transfer agendas for this summer depending on whether he stays or leaves.

Wright-Phillips is now, however, the main transfer priority for Jose Mourinho, who is prepared to place his interest in Michael Essien on hold in order to land Wright-Phillips. Mourinho hopes to partner Essien with Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele, with Wright-Phillips competing with Damien Duff, Joe Cole and Arjen Robben for the two wide attacking roles.