Manchester City will expect Chelsea to pay around £10m for the services of their out-of-contract teenage striker Daniel Sturridge, an indication that City regard the player in the Theo Walcott bracket.
Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and his City opposite number Garry Cook have recently discussed Sturridge in the course of a wider conversation about players, and the current desire at Stamford Bridge for younger players has left City resigned to losing the 19-year-old. But though Mark Hughes was dismayed to find that contract discussions with Sturridge had lapsed, leaving him out of contract from this month, the club can go to a valuation tribunal to agree a development fee for the player which reflects the work City have undertaken to bring him through their ranks.
The player's age and number of years at City will be taken into consideration. The £10m figure – some of which would be performance related – is the market value as far as City are concerned, considering that Hull City have just paid £6m for 21-year-old Manchester United striker Fraizer Campbell and that Arsenal agreed to pay Southampton up to £12m for Walcott, then aged 16, three years ago.
City are hopeful that negotiations might be resolved without recourse to the tribunal and it is possible that the Premier League could broker a deal if the buying and selling clubs are far apart. The fact that City have weighed up such issues is a reflection of the fact that there is now next to no hope that the striker can be persuaded to stay. A tribunal, should it be necessary, would not delay the player's registration with a new club.
"Never say never" remains the view as far as far as City's hopes of keeping Sturridge are concerned – and there has as yet been no firm bid for the England youth player. But the £55,000 a week wage demands Sturridge has been making since February – only marginally less than the salary Stephen Ireland will command next season in the first year of a new contract in which his pay is tapered up over three years – has made his departure seem inevitable for some time.
Also likely to be leaving Eastlands is goalkeeper Joe Hart, with the player's agent confirming last night that promoted Birmingham City have tabled a bid for an individual who has demonstrated his capacity to perform at the top levels but whose opportunities have been severely limited since Shay Given arrived from Newcastle in January. Birmingham, who have just returned to the Premier League, have agreed a loan deal, to be extended to a permanent move the season after next if Hart meets up to expectations and plays 40 games for them. The deal, agreed between Birmingham and Hart, has yet to be signed off by Cook, who is currently on holiday.