Arsenal have reluctantly told their captain Cesc Fabregas they are prepared to sell him but only for the right price and to whichever non-English club offers the most money as Real Madrid yesterday entered the picture.
Sources in Spain claim Fabregas is becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsenal's stance, having earlier in the summer been led to believe that his move to Barcelona would be sorted out before the start of pre-season training.
Fabregas, 24, reported at Arsenal's training ground in London Colney yesterday but did not join the rest of the first team for a double session of work. Instead he underwent strengthening work on a long-standing hamstring injury in the gym with his personal trainer.
Fabregas has already rebuffed tentative advances from Manchester City, having set his heart on a return to Barça, the club he left in controversial circumstances in 2003 at the age of 16.
Barcelona made an official bid of £27m two weeks ago, which was immediately rejected by the Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, who values Fabregas at £40m. Arsenal are hoping that interest from Real Madrid will force Barcelona to increase their offer. Fabregas has ruled out moving to Madrid but Arsenal do not see why they should be forced to accept a lower offer from Barça if their Spanish rivals are prepared to pay more.
With Arsenal happy to play the two Spanish sides off against each other, Fabregas is left in limbo, hoping that Barcelona make a significantly improved offer and break the impasse.
A year ago, they failed with £29m and £31m bids for Fabregas, who decided to stay with Arsenal for one season, on the understanding that the club would not stand in his way again this summer. However Real's interest in Fabregas has altered the dynamic and swung the bargaining position back in Arsenal's favour, much to the annoyance of Fabregas.
The picture has also been muddied further by a disagreement between Arsenal and Barcelona over the London club's recruitment of midfielder Jon Toral and right-back Hector Bellerin, both 16, from the famous La Masia academy. They were both offered professional terms by Barcelona, but opted to follow the route taken by Fabregas and signed five-year contracts for Arsenal instead. The pair were rated two of the most promising players in the Barcelona youth set-up and the Catalan club are furious that Arsenal have once again enticed away some of their finest emerging talent.
Arsenal paid around £300,000 in training costs for each of the players, who were signed earlier this year. Barça, however, are claiming they should be paid around £6m in compensation in total, and are using that as a bargaining chip in an attempt to lower the price for Fabregas.
Arsenal refuse to accept Barcelona's claims, and state that they have done nothing wrong as both players were out of contract. Both have publicly said that they joined Arsenal because they were promised first-team football within three years.
Arsenal are also being stubborn over the situation concerning contract rebel Samir Nasri, who has rejected a five-year extension worth £90,000 a week to his current deal, which runs out next year, and is trying to negotiate a more lucrative salary elsewhere. Manchester United are expected to bid for the French midfielder who, while most of the first-team squad had their first pre-season training sessions yesterday, is not due back until tomorrow. But Arsenal are insisting on £25m if they have to sell him to another Premier League club. Manchester City, Chelsea, Internazionale and Milan are all monitoring Nasri's situation closely.
Arsenal hope to confirm this week the signing of Ivory Coast striker Gervinho from Lille for a fee of around £12m. However, it seems they have missed out on midfielder Ricardo Alvarez, who last night seemed set to move to Inter for £10.7m. The Italian press yesterday reported Inter had reached an agreement with Velez Sarsfield for the 23-year-old playmaker, who is to sign a five-year contract.