Spurs raise stakes with £20m offer for Torres

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The Independent Online

Tottenham Hotspur have been told by Atletico Madrid that a bid of around £20m for the striker Fernando Torres will not be enough to buy the highly sought-after 21-year-old, but it is an indication of the ambition at White Hart Lane that the club will test the resolve of Atletico right up until tonight's transfer deadline and again in the summer.

The capture of Torres would have been the coup of the January transfer window and hopes persist that a deal can be agreed, although with the transfer window to close at midnight tonight they were fading yesterday. Torres, a regular for his national team and regarded as Spain's equivalent to Wayne Rooney, is an iconic figure at Atletico and any transfer would need to satisfy the club's supporters that their favourite was not leaving cheaply.

Potential suitors for Torres, who has been a target for Arsenal, Chelsea and Real Madrid, have previously been warned off even trying to bid for the player who, with Raul still badly injured, is likely to carry Spain's hopes in attack at the World Cup finals this summer. However, Tottenham, who travel to Fulham tonight, have, like many of Europe's wealthiest sides, been given signals from Atletico that their policy on Torres has changed.

Last week, Atletico's president Enrique Cerezo said he was "obliged to listen to offers" for the player at around the time Tottenham offered €30m (£20.5m), which would comfortably break the club record fee of £11m paid to Dynamo Kiev for Sergei Rebrov in 2001.

Tottenham's transfer policy has often relied on brinkmanship as the transfer window closes and the offer to Atletico will remain on the table as the clock ticks towards to midnight.

Should Tottenham fail to sign Torres, who is 22 in March, they will move in the summer when Atletico, who lie 11th in La Liga, will have more time to reinvest the fee. Torres will have two years on his contract from the summer and the sensible option for his club would be either to offer a new deal or, more likely, realise his full transfer value.

Tottenham's search for a striker has led them down unusual paths this month, with an enquiry to West Ham for their 39-year-old former striker Teddy Sheringham. They have also considered Dimitar Berbatov, 25, the Bulgarian forward at Bayer Leverkusen who would be a more long-term option, but it is Torres who fits their policy of signing young players whose transfer value should grow.

While Tottenham have shown a new-found strength in the transfer market they have yet to pull off a genuine "trophy signing" that would mark their development into serious Champions' League contenders. While Torres would fulfil thatdesire, the club have been keen to keep their approach as secret as possible to avoid the old criticism that they were constantly linked with top players whom they ultimately failed to sign.

The approach for Torres also says much about the attitude of their head coach, Martin Jol, and director of football, Damien Comolli, towards their current crop of strikers, Jermain Defoe in particular. While the Egyptian Mido, currently on an 18-month loan, is expected join on a permanent deal from Roma this summer, the future for Defoe, who has lost his place to Robbie Keane this season, is much less certain.

Defoe has made just three starts for the side since the beginning of November. A £7m signing two years ago, and a regular in the England squad, he would be worth at least that in the transfer market this summer should Tottenham's bid for Torres be successful.

The club are also eager to offload Grzegorz Rasiak, the Polish forward who signed from Derby County with just minutes to spare at the close of the transfer window at the end of August and has proved to be short of the standard required, making just seven Premiership appearances.

Tottenham also said yesterday that their bid to sign Jonathan Zebina from Juventus, which had collapsed on Friday, was officially over. The move for the French full-back was blocked by the Juventus coach Fabio Capello, who decided that injuries to his squad meant that he could not afford to let the player leave.

Tottenham's move to sign Egyptian midfielder Hossam Ghaly from Feyenoord could run into difficulties - he has a groin injury and may also struggle to qualify for a work permit - and if so Michael Brown's move to Fulham might be stopped.

Likely to be the busiest of the Premiership's clubs today, Tottenham have already sold Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes and Noe Pamarot to Portsmouth but will be hoping that their most significant business is yet to come.