City deny opening negotiations for Eto'o

Manchester City are anxious that their contact-building meeting with the Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, should not be viewed as the first step towards a move for Samuel Eto'o – which is, of course, exactly how it is being viewed.

City claim no offer is being prepared for the 28-year-old, despite the fact that Eto'o's present contract at the Nou Camp has little more than a year to run, and that he is currently refusing to discuss the possibility of signing an extension.

Clearly it would be folly for City, as one of the world's richest clubs, to rule out a move for a player long viewed as one of the world's best forwards, and who will be a key figure in Barcelona's attempt to overcome Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final.

However, Eto'o has given no indication he would be willing to head to Eastlands – City may be ambitious but they will not be in the Champions League next season and are by no means guaranteed a place in the new Europa League either.

City are understood to be irritated that Eto'o's name has figured so prominently in speculation concerning the chat between their chief executive, Garry Cook, and Laporta.

They argue that while relations between clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea and major European rivals are well established, City are very much still in a getting-to-know-you process.

A line of communication of sorts was established with Milan during the ill-fated move for Kaka, which brought the kind of adverse publicity City are anxious to avoid in the future.

As Barcelona president Laporta is one of the most powerful men in the game, Cook feels that he is someone that he should get to know. It is part of the unseen process of becoming a big club, which goes far beyond merely spending large amounts of money on individual players. City believe the only way they can take their place at football's top table is by building relationships with more established clubs that would eventually allow them to deal as equals.

"There has been speculation about players all year," said the City manager, Mark Hughes, yesterday. "It is something that we accept and has become predictable. The meeting was not about individuals but how both clubs can help each other.

"As a club, we are trying to get relationships with clubs who would not previously have passed the time of day with us. Now, because of [the club's owner] Sheikh Mansour, they want to have a relationship and talk about plans that would benefit both clubs. We are aiming to have this kind of relationship with all top clubs in Europe."

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