Manchester United are preparing to cut their losses on the Nigerian striker John Obi Mikel and sell him to Chelsea but they will make the Premiership champions pay a premium for the teenager Jose Mourinho described as "golden" with bidding likely to start around the £6m mark.
One of the most unedifying transfer sagas in English football came a step closer to resolution last week when a district court in Oslo upheld the legitimacy of the contract the 18-year-old had signed with his club side Lyn Oslo that should have seen him join United this month. It meant that lawyers working for the player have a month to lodge an appeal under Norwegian law after losing a similar case at a Fifa tribunal last year.
However, United are increasingly of a mind that it will be impossible for Mikel to play for the club and they should instead sell him, probably to Chelsea who have registered an interest. He has been missing from Norway since November when he left Lyn mid-season without permission and his work permit was cancelled by the Norwegian government at the start of this month.
The player has since surfaced in Africa where he has been named in the senior Nigeria squad for the African Nations' Cup tournament although Lyn have not been able to establish contact with him or his advisors. On 29 April last year he signed a contract to join United and gave a press conference wearing a club shirt but the following month his advisors said that the player had been forced to do so against his wishes and intimated that he would be joining Chelsea.
The disappearance of Mikel, and fears for the player's safety, have been a cause of some distress for United who have been in daily contact with Lyn over the case and there are genuine fears that pressure has been placed upon Mikel to change his mind. Last year the United chief executive, David Gil,l even appeared on the club's in-house MUTV channel with the paperwork that proved Mikel was legally contracted to Old Trafford.
However, with this transfer window set to pass with no hope of Mikel making an appearance in Manchester, the club will now consider how they can bring matters to a conclusion. A transfer would require Mikel to be bought out of the contract that United have with him so that he is able to obtain a work permit from the Home Office.
While there is still a Fifa investigation into the case pending, the sporting director of Lyn, Morgan Andersen, said that the ruling of the Norwegian court had vindicated the agreement between his club and United. "The judgement was what we always thought was right - that he should go to Manchester in January," he said. "We were convinced it was best for him."