The Barcelona president Joan Laporta yesterday claimed that Manchester City were the favourites to sign Ronaldinho after a £25.5m bid for the Brazilian – more than twice as much as has been offered by his other suitors, Milan. However, the news was not greeted with optimism by City with sources rating no better than "50/50" the club's chances of eventually signing the 28-year-old, who caused further irritation at Barça by refusing to turn up for the first day of pre-season training.
Instead his agent, and brother, Roberto de Assis, held talks with Laporta over Ronaldinho's future, which prompted Barça to go public with the bids that have been tabled. The club have given the player until Thursday to sort out his future. "If the operation cannot be confirmed in this time, the player will rejoin squad training," a statement said.
It is understood that Ronaldinho would still prefer to move to Milan and City fear that they are being used by the player and his agent – and Barça – to force the Italians to offer a greater transfer fee and more in wages.
Matters are further complicated because De Assis is believed to have fallen out with Milan's vice-president and chief negotiator, Adriano Galliani, although the latter is understood to have travelled to Spain yesterday in an attempt to sort out the deal.
For City it remains a waiting game, and one that is full of bluff and counter-bluff, but also one in which no-one could accuse them, following the £19m purchase of another Brazilian, the striker Jo, of lacking ambition.
City, meanwhile, are set to reject a bid of around £10m from Aston Villa for midfielder Michael Johnson, who is on the verge of signing a new contract.
The deal they have put together for Ronaldinho is highly impressive and is far in excess of the £10m, which has been offered by Milan. Furthermore, although Milan are willing to match Ronaldinho's current wages at Barça, City are offering a lot more. "[Ronaldinho and his agent] have two interesting proposals and they are leaning more towards the one from Manchester City," Laporta told Catalunya Radio.
Despite the pronouncements of new coach Pep Guardiola that Ronaldinho would be welcome back to the squad if he was not sold this summer, the club would be horrified if a deal was not struck after going public with their desire to sell him along with Deco, now at Chelsea, and Samuel Eto'o.
Guardiola is in the process of re-building his squad and had hoped to announce yesterday the signing of Arsenal's Alexander Hleb in a deal that could rise to £15m. However, no agreement has yet been reached despite optimism from both clubs, following discussions last week that they were close. Barça are also still keen on Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor but, like Milan, they baulked at the original valuation. It now appears that Arsenal have decided to drop their asking price from £36m to closer to what both clubs are willing to offer – no more than £25m – which should see a deal struck. Adebayor, like Ronaldinho, would prefer a move to Milan even though the club are not in the Champions League next season.
It may be that Galliani's reluctance to raise the offer for Ronaldinho is linked to his desire to keep his funds intact to buy Adebayor. Milan sources insist that they have not given up hope of signing Andrei Shevchenko from Chelsea but that is unlikely to happen especially as the Italians are trying to negotiate a free transfer.