Manchester City are monitoring Daniele de Rossi's protracted contract negotiations at Roma and believe that £5m may be enough to secure a deal for a player in whom manager Roberto Mancini has a keen interest.
Mancini has also been following the progress of Crystal Palace's Ivorian winger Wilfried Zaha, and was impressed by what he saw of him in the Carling Cup defeat of Manchester United, but the 28-year-old De Rossi is the player who could make the most substantial difference as City aim to strengthen.
The prospects of a deal for the Italian are understood to be radically reduced by the level of wages the midfielder is seeking which, Mancini is aware, would put him on the same scale as Carlos Tevez's £198,000-a-week as he seeks his last major deal in football. City believe Chelsea also have interest in the player, whose transfer fee would be low because his age limits his resale value. City's own interest in him would have financial limits. In an attempt to reduce £197m of losses to comply with Uefa's financial fair play regulations, they now need to sell before they can buy. They may not go back into the transfer market until the summer.
Mancini is not seeking another striker, despite the possibility of Carlos Tevez moving to Milan, and reinforcements for midfield have been made an even higher priority than central defence, where Mancini is struggling to identify genuinely world-class targets. While Owen Hargreaves is yet to prove that he is capable of rebuilding his career at City, uncertainty also surrounds the future of Nigel de Jong following his rejection of an improved deal last summer. De Jong has only 18 months left on his contract, City are relaxed about waiting until next summer to revisit contract talks. The Dutchman has had a far less prominent role at City this season and Mancini did not start him in a number of the club's Champions League fixtures.
Mancini admitted last month that he would like to sign De Rossi. "If one day De Rossi were to put himself on the market, Manchester City would try to sign him, as would Real Madrid, Chelsea and all the top clubs," he said. "He is one of the few players who can be put in the best teams in the world, a complete midfielder with class and experience. But it's difficult to lure a Roman footballer and a Roma fan away because a Roman is tied to his origins and to his style of life."
The Manchester City manager feels the same passion for Rome, which is his favourite Italian city, despite his years in Genoa, with Sampdoria. But De Rossi has seemed ready to leave after 11 years at Roma for his final payday.
He surprised his club last month when he said they could be "better off" without him, though that may have been part of a strategy to secure a much improved deal for himself. His words have certainly prompted feverish speculation and left Roma general manager Franco Baldini strenuously seeking to strike a deal with De Rossi. "We talk too much about this and we must learn to shut up," Baldini said this week. "I will only say that De Rossi as a man and as a player, is a person we need. He is an intelligent man, at the top of his career, tempted by many offers. That is the difficulty. He is legitimately evaluating all the options and I hope he won't decide to leave."