Maniche the target as Arsenal prepare for life without Vieira

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The Independent Online

Arsenal are considering a bid for Porto's Nuno Maniche if, as appears increasingly likely, Patrick Vieira leaves for Real Madrid. A decision will be made in the next few days, once Vieira's future is clear, although Porto will resist any attempt to buy Maniche who proved a major success in Portugal's Euro 2004 campaign.

Arsenal are considering a bid for Porto's Nuno Maniche if, as appears increasingly likely, Patrick Vieira leaves for Real Madrid. A decision will be made in the next few days, once Vieira's future is clear, although Porto will resist any attempt to buy Maniche who proved a major success in Portugal's Euro 2004 campaign.

Arsenal are set to offer £9.5m for the 26-year-old midfielder ­ although Porto will want at least £15m and may attempt to hold out for even more. They are in no hurry to sell Maniche, despite his own professed desire to leave, having already made a net profit of £22m on transfers this summer after their success last season in winning the Champions' League. Although Porto are traditionally a club that needs to sell they feel they have completed their business for this season.

Maniche had hoped to follow Jose Mourinho and asked his former coach to take him to Chelsea. But like several other Porto players, most noticeably Maniche's midfield partner, Costinha, he was disappointed. Mourinho had initially appeared keen to raid Porto, beyond taking the full-back Paulo Ferreira, but, according to his associates, wanted to make his own mark in the Premiership and not be seen to rely too heavily on players he already knew.

Barcelona ­ who have bought Deco from Porto, another player linked with Chelsea ­ have expressed an interest in Maniche, as have Deportivo La Coruña, while Real Madrid presidential candidate Lorenz Sanz said he would take the player to the Bernabeu. However, he did not win the recent elections.

Maniche has made clear his enthusiasm to play in England, and would fit Arsenal's requirements, but any deal may also falter because Porto have already sold his understudy, the defensive midfielder Pedro Mendes. Ironically, and no doubt to their supporters' delight, the player joined Arsenal's north London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

Arsène Wenger's interest in Maniche further confirms the likelihood that Vieira will reluctantly be sold to Madrid for a fee of around £30m even though team-mate Fredrik Ljungberg has become the latest Arsenal player to publicly plead with his captain to stay. Vieira, 28, who has three years left on his contract, has maintained a worrying silence. He did not depart on the club's pre-season tour, which started last night with a match in Slovenia, but that was only because he, along with the other Arsenal players in Euro 2004, is due to join up with the squad tomorrow. They will play two matches in Austria and then a triangular tournament in Amsterdam. Whether Vieira takes any part at all remains to be seen.

Maniche's agent, Paulo Barbosa, is awaiting developments and knows that one of Arsenal's alternative targets, Roma's Emerson, is all but signed up by Juventus while there is no chance that Steven Gerrard will leave Liverpool before next year at the earliest. Barbosa also knows that Maniche is probably now at the height of his marketability.

If Maniche did move to Highbury ­ and for a fee that was not inflated ­ it would represent reasonable business for Wenger who would also have a central midfield of three Portuguese speakers. He already has Gilberto and Edu ­ although the latter, who made his breakthrough last season, has now declared a desire to join Barcelona.

Wenger was yesterday continuing to re-shape Arsenal's midfield with the sale of 31-year-old Ray Parlour to Middlesbrough for £1.7m, representing the departure of the last of the club's old guard, and the arrival of Mathieu Flamini from Marseille. The French Under-21 international, who has worked his way through the club's youth teams, appears to be another typically shrewd, and sharp, Wenger signing.

Despite making 14 first-team appearances last season, including the Uefa Cup final against Valencia, Flamini, a 20-year-old defensive midfielder, can opt to leave because he had not yet signed a professional contract. It means that Arsenal will not have to pay a transfer fee, although, because of Flamini's age and his passage through the youth ranks, there will be compensation of just under £1m.

Marseille are furious about the proposed five-year deal for the player, who also interested Everton and Charlton Athletic, and coach Jose Anigo described Flamini's actions as "pure treachery". "Flamini cheated me. Money is the only reason why he didn't sign for us," he said. "He was just pretending when he said he wanted to leave because he was afraid he would get less games next season. Now he will have to push Patrick Vieira to the sideline. I shall never again line up a player who is not under contract," Anigo said.

Flamini is likely to be joined at Arsenal by Hatem Trabelsi, the Tunisian right-back, who can also play in central defence. Trabelsi, who employs the same agent as the former Highbury striker Kanu, has been linked with a move ever since his present club Ajax played Arsenal in the Champions' League two seasons ago. Wenger is understood to have beaten off competition from Newcastle United for Trabelsi, 27, who was withdrawn from the Ajax squad for their friendly against Queen's Park Rangers in London on Wednesday.

Trabelsi has had an unhappy time at Ajax, taking the club to court in a failed attempt to be released from his contract, and is set to join Arsenal for £4m. That would place a question mark over the first-team future of Lauren, in particular, in what has turned into a summer of change for Arsenal.

* Arsenal survived a second-half comeback to beat NK Maribor 3-2 in the first game of their pre-season tour in Solvenia last night. Dennis Bergkamp and Jérémie Aliadière netted early goals, but Milan Rakic pulled one back before Robin van Persie scored Arsenal's third in the 84th minute. However, Maribor had the last word with Rakic netting his second two minutes later.

THE NEW VIEIRA? HOW MANICHE AND FLAMINI MEASURE UP

MANICHE

Scored one of the goals of Euro 2004 with his strike against the Netherlands, and scored twice in the quarter-finals of last season's Champions' League. Although versatile, he is best-known as a hard-working midfield player. He appears to have the muscular, energetic game to succeed in England but may lack Patrick Vieira's power. Full name is Nuno Ricardo Oliveira Ribeiro. Nicknamed Maniche in honour of Benfica's Danish forward Michel Manniche. Selected for the all-star squad for Euro 2004. A product of the Benfica youth system, he fell out with the Lisbon club and he moved to Porto in 2002.

MATHIEU FLAMINI

A more direct replacement and the 20-year-old Frenchman models himself on Vieira. Born in Marseille, he is a product of the club's youth system. A disciplined holding midfielder, he is also very confident although he has only a handful of first-team games. Nothing appears to affect him - as witnessed by his astonishing emergence during last season's Uefa Cup campaign. Until Christmas he was ensconced in the reserves and then Jose Anigo promoted him. "He has got such a cool temperament; he is not fazed by anything," Anigo explained. Even, it seems, the prospect of succeeding Vieira.

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