Warning for Eden Hazard as Manchester City move for £7m Younes Belhanda
Montpellier midfielder in frame but demands may cost £30m Lille star dear
Manchester City have identified the Montpellier midfielder Younes Belhanda as a back-up target, with their pursuit of Eden Hazard, one of the Continent's brightest talents, proving more difficult than the club had first anticipated.
The Moroccan Belhanda, 22, is a key cog of the Montpellier side which, against all expectations, is in position to ruin the title hopes of the Qataris who have invested heavily in Paris St-Germain. City are beginning to apply themselves to the possible acquisition of the £7m-rated Morocco international because, after two months' hard pursuit of the 21-year-old Hazard, which has included a property tour of the Cheshire commuter belt, the demands of the player's representatives are becoming a source of severe concern.
Hazard, for whom Tottenham Hotspur made the early running, with Sir Alex Ferguson another self-professed enthusiast, was always likely to be an expensive acquisition, with a price tag of around £30m. But it is understood that his agent is demanding that Hazard be placed among the club's highest earners – something the club cannot and will not accede to.
Belhanda would be a far cheaper option because, while he has been vying with Hazard as the standout player this season, this has been his first genuinely big campaign and he is more untested. The core of René Girard's Montpellier side is the generation of young players who lifted the French youth cup, the Coupe Gambardella, in 2009, and Belhanda, whom Girard has compared to Robert Pires, is foremost among them. He is also in the mould of Samir Nasri, Montpellier through and through, in the way that Nasri lived and breathed Marseilles.
Like Nasri he is versatile, with the ability to work the flanks and as a playmaker. But he is at his best operating behind a lone striker. He has operated behind Olivier Giroud, this season, in a 4-4-1-1 system, and been the individual who makes Montpellier tick. A product of Montpellier's academy, and with 12 goals and six assists, he boasts a superior record to the €43m (£34m) Javier Pastore, the most expensive of PSG's summer recruits.
There is evidence that he would bring City another combustible character, though. Belhanda was sent off amid a mass brawl last week and could face a prolonged ban for punching Evian's Cédric Mongongu on his way back to the dressing room. After the match, he turned on Giroud for not taking a penalty which Souleymane Camara missed in stoppage time. It meant a 2-2 draw, which has allowed PSG to go back to the top of Ligue 1.
It is Hazard whom Roberto Mancini covets most and the City manager is understood to have become increasingly concerned already that United or Spurs may steal in if his own club delay.
This summer may well be another in which Mancini's desires are tempered by the strategy of the club's football administrator, Brian Marwood, who must also seek to bring the club in line with Uefa's financial fair play parameters. A title for City would strengthen the manager's hand, at a time when he feels a playmaker is one of City's missing pieces.
Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, said of Belhanda. "I know him well. He plays without any complexities. His real talent is dribbling, passing, and he has good technique, which can influence any game. I am sure of his potential. I love this player, but I do not want to create problems. Montpellier will decide if he leaves. Once that happens we might look at him, but we respect Montpellier." Belhanda, who has two years left on his contract, said: "My dream is to play in England or Germany. Everybody wants to play in the Premier League. There are great clubs like Arsenal".
Belhanda in brief
Born 25 February 1990 in Avignon.
Youth career RC Aramonais (1997-98), MJC Avignon (1998-03), Montpellier (2003-09).
Clubs Montpellier (2009-).
International France U20 (2 caps, 0 goals), Morocco (12 caps, 1 goal).
Can play as a central midfielder, on the wing or just behind the striker, and has scored 12 league goals this season.
Played for Morocco in this year's African Nations Cup with Queen's Park Rangers' Adel Taarabt and Arsenal's Marouane Chamakh, but they went out in the group stage.
Latest in Sport
MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix 2015: Five things we can expect this season plus what to look out for as Marc Marquez begins title defence
WrestleMania 31: What time does it start? Full match card and preview ahead of WWE event
Gareth Bale to Chelsea: Real Madrid to be 'tempted by £75m offer' this summer
Thierry Henry shows he's still got it with incredible pass against Jamie Carragher's side during Steven Gerrard tribute match
Manchester United transfer news: Chris Smalling and Phil Jones face uncertain future with contract renewal talks on hold
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Is this bridge haunted by the ghost of nu rave?
- 3 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers