The battle for England defender Joleon Lescott went public today when Everton formally rejected a £15m bid from Manchester City.
The Merseyside club's defiance will only be fuelled by City executive chairman Garry Cook talking publicly about manager Mark Hughes' admiration for the 26-year-old.
Everton are desperate to hang on to their top players, having reached the FA Cup final last season and managed a second-successive fifth-placed Premier League finish.
But they cannot begin to compete with City's financial muscle and boss David Moyes will be determined to continue his seven years of painstaking progress at the club.
Cook was questioned about Lescott in Abu Dhabi yesterday en route to South Africa for the club's pre-season tour, and rather than opt not to comment, he said: "Mark loves the player...he is a great player and Mark has always talked about investing in young, international talent."
On his arrival in South Africa today Cook declined to reveal the names of City's future targets, but his comments 24 hours earlier will have certainly annoyed Moyes.
Everton received the bid on Thursday, and this afternoon made their response, chief executive Robert Elstone saying: "As a club, we have publicly stated - as recently as Wednesday night - that we do not intend selling any players.
"David Moyes' primary focus is on building a squad so that we can continue to compete effectively in what is the most competitive league in world football."
Cook's declared interest in Lescott is in sharp contrast to boss Mark Hughes' comments that "people can see we are trying to do our business in the correct manner and the polite way; we're not trying to shout from the rooftops and throwing our resources in people's faces".
Everton know that this is only the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle they do not have the resources to win.
Lescott, who lives in the Manchester area, is believed to be interested in a move to a club with such vast wealth and ambitions.
Although Everton have just announced record turnover of approaching £80million for the recently completed season, they do have a growing debt with Kenwright making it plain that the only way they can compete with the giants of the game is to acquire major outside investment.
City will certainly be back with an increased bid, and an offer of wages for Lescott that are believed to treble his Everton deal.
A bid of over £20million will test Moyes' resolve to the limit, giving him a £15million profit on the £5million he paid Wolves for the Birmingham-born defender in June 2006.Reuse content