City start spending with £18m Roque

World's richest club also set to make £11m bid for Chelsea defender Bridge
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The Independent Football

Manchester City will greet the opening of the January transfer window with a bang by offering more than £11m for Chelsea's Wayne Bridge. A deal is thought to be close to completion. The world's wealthiest football club are also bidding £18m for the Blackburn Rovers' striker Roque Santa Cruz as the manager, Mark Hughes, acts quickly to bolster his squad.

Hughes has made Bridge his No 1 target, with the City executive chairman, Garry Cook, hoping to agree a deal for the 28-year-old England international defender within the next 72 hours. Several other bids are in the pipeline for City, who want Arsenal's Kolo Touré, for example, as well as the Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given. City have already had an offer of £15m for Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker rejected by West Ham United.

Chelsea are likely to accept City's offer for Bridge, even though he signed a new four-year contract to remain at Stamford Bridge only last summer. The left-back is understood to earn £70,000 a week and will be offered a pay increase at Eastlands.

There is some bemusement in football at City's buying strategy – £11m for Bridge is way above his market value – and the fees they are expected to offer, but the decision by the club to flex their financial muscle will have a knock-on effect for the rest of the Premier League and provide funds which could kick-start a busy month of buying.

Chelsea, for example, are planning to agree to their manager Luiz Felipe Scolari's request to buy a striker and will have their funds boosted by the expected sale of Bridge, while the Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce can use the money from Santa Cruz to rebuild his team in an effort to avoid relegation.

Yesterday, Allardyce insisted there had not yet been a formal bid from City for Santa Cruz, whom Hughes signed for Blackburn for just £3.8m 16 months ago. He scored 23 goals last season but the Paraguayan has been plagued by injury during this campaign – he currently has a calf strain – and has also been distracted by City's interest – they made two offers for him in the summer of £12m and £15m.

"It's not a done deal," Allardyce said. "You never welcome losing your best players, but you can't help it if they make a bid, and you have to do whatever you have to do to take consideration over it and make the right decision from the club's point of view."

However, City are ready to pounce, along with a move for Bridge, who joined Chelsea for £7m from Southampton in the first flush of the owner Roman Abramovich's spending in 2003.

The defender is a popular figure within the squad and would be loath to leave Chelsea but it is a sign of the shifting spending power in the league that City, backed by the Abu Dhabi United Group and with plans eventually to bid for a host of world superstars such as Kaka and Gianluigi Buffon, can provide such an attractive offer for him. A world-record bid from City this month cannot be discounted, with Valencia's David Villa a realistic target.

Bridge has made six league appearances this season and continues effectively to be understudy to Ashley Cole at Chelsea. Nevertheless, he has managed to keep his place in the England squad and is regarded by Hughes as among the finest left-backs in the league. His arrival at Eastlands would immediately solve one of City's defensive problems.

It is unclear whether City would back out of a bid for Bellamy should they sign Santa Cruz and while Arsenal will be willing to sell Touré, Newcastle intend to hold on to Given.

Hughes tried yesterday, once again, to dampen down expectation, although he admitted that City know they will have to pay a "premium" for transfers given their backing. "We're aware of this assumption about the level of finance that we'll throw at the project in January, but we still have realistic market values," Hughes claimed. "There is also an assumption that we will stimulate the market, that the money sloshing around will be from the deals that we have started, but we have to make sure we protect the club as well.

"The deals that we do will have to be good ones, but we are quite happy at the moment. We know that there will be a premium that we will probably have to pay because it's January, and teams don't want to lose their better players. But it will not be to the extent where we are paying hugely over the market value."

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