Everton will make an audacious attempt to convince Joey Barton to exchange the sky blue of Manchester for the royal blue of Merseyside if they can raise £5.5m to activate a release clause in his City contract before the close of the transfer window.
David Moyes, the Everton manager, has identified the tenacious 24-year-old as the man to improve his side's faltering prospects of European qualification this season and is prepared to pay a record sum for a midfielder at Goodison Park, plus a salary of around £35,000 a week, to tempt Barton into what would be a controversial move.
The former Everton trainee signed a four-year contract at Manchester City last summer but it contains a clause that allows him to speak to any club willing to meet a £5.5m release fee. Moyes does not have that money at his disposal at present, but that will change overnight provided Fulham follow up their interest in the Wales international Simon Davies with an offer in the region of £2.75m.
The veteran central defender David Weir is expected to leave the Goodison pay roll today by rejoining his former manager Walter Smith at Glasgow Rangers on a free transfer, and with Everton yet to spend the £2.5m they banked from Wigan for Kevin Kilbane on transfer deadline day last August, the sale of the former Tottenham winger Davies will generate the funds Moyes needs to pursue the Barton transfer.
Then comes the hard part, convincing the England hopeful that his career would be best served by a move back to Goodison Park. Not only does Barton harbour ambitions of joining one of the Premiership's top four clubs, he announced a fortnight ago that he would not leave Manchester City during this transfer window. Barton, a boyhood Evertonian, has also endured run-ins with supporters of his former club in the past.
In 2005 he was sent home from a pre-season tour of Thailand by City's manager, Stuart Pearce, for fighting with a teenage Everton fan at the bar of a Bangkok Hotel. Last September he responded to taunts about his half-brother Michael, jailed for the racist murder of the Liverpool teenager Anthony Walker in 2005, by dropping his shorts to the Goodison Park crowd and attracted an FA fine.
Despite so many apparent obstacles, however, Everton officials believe they can tempt Barton to become the local fulcrum of a side with designs on the Uefa Cup next season.
Unlike Everton, City remain in the FA Cup this season and will tonight seek to secure a fourth-round home tie against Southampton, as well as raising fresh transfer funds for manager Pearce, when they face Sheffield Wednesday in a third-round replay.
Though under no pressure to sell Micah Richards, Sylvain Distin or Barton (release clause not withstanding) this month, the City manager, who yesterday insisted there had still been no official approach from Chelsea for the England defender, is not awash with transfer funds himself.
Despite presiding over an impressive start to 2007 Pearce is anxious to bolster a strike force that has yielded just nine goals this season and last night he lost Paul Dickov for between six and eight weeks after he underwent surgery on a broken toe.
To that end, tonight's television income plus shared gate receipts offer an added incentive to progress. "It will impact on my transfer budget without a doubt," Pearce said.
City are today expecting an answer from Seville on their offer to take Kepa Blanco Gonzalez on loan until the end of the season, with Charlton and West Ham also believed to be interested in the Spanish striker, and have given a week's trial to the Internazionale defender and former Italy international, Francesco Coco.
The American midfielder Claudio Reyna will soon be off the City pay roll, having been allowed by the club to return to the MLS for family reasons, and Pearce has confirmed his interest in the former City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips is at an end. "We have been quoted a price that's a million miles away from our budget and Chelsea don't want a loan deal," he said.
One striker City have secured is Djamel Abdoun, a French Under-20 international who has signed on loan from Ajaccio until the end of the season and who, back in his homeland this weekend, somewhat unwisely confessed to modelling his game on the current darling of Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo. "Does he really?" asked a sceptical Pearce. "Well, we'll soon knock that out of him."Reuse content