Hughes steps up bid for Santa Cruz and courts £10m Milito

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The Independent Online

Manchester City are to test Blackburn Rovers' resolve to hold on to Roque Santa Cruz by increasing their offer for the 26-year-old striker to around £15m – but, at the same time, are understood to have launched a £10m bid for Real Zaragoza's Diego Milito.

The moves represent a real statement of intent from City, who are desperate to land a striker – given their injury crisis with Benjani Mwaruwari and Darius Vassell out while Jo is on Olympic duty – within the next few days. That is unlikely to happen before their first Premier League game on Sunday away to Aston Villa.

City had submitted a bid of £12m for Santa Cruz and the club's board spent the day considering their next move after the offer was rejected by Blackburn. City will not sign both Santa Cruz and Milito, who has been another long-term target. But they hope to secure one of the two before the transfer window closes at the end of this month.

City also considered making a move for Craig Bellamy who, like Santa Cruz worked under their manager, Mark Hughes, at Blackburn, but the prospect of that happening has diminished after West Ham United made clear they would not sell while the Welsh striker is keen to remain at Upton Park.

City's chances of signing Santa Cruz, who scored 23 goals last season, are slim, given Blackburn's insistence that their top scorer is not for sale even though they would be making a handsome profit on the £3.5m they paid Bayern Munich last summer for the player.

"A bid came in and it was immediately rejected," Blackburn said in a statement. "Manchester City officials have been advised that the player would not be for sale and we are very disappointed they have continued their interest."

Blackburn's chairman, John Williams, having sold David Bentley to Tottenham, is insistent that City are wasting their time in pursuing Santa Cruz. Blackburn, nevertheless, are looking to strengthen their own strike force with their manager, Paul Ince, believed to be keen on Getafe's Ikechukwu Uche. The 24-year-old Nigerian has a buy-out clause of more than £10m and although Blackburn have made an inquiry they are yet to submit a bid to the Spanish club.

City are adamant that they have the funds available to back Hughes and are hoping to sign two more players this month, in addition to a striker, to add to the arrival of £19m Brazilian Jo from CSKA Moscow and £3m defender Tal Ben Haim from Chelsea. The club has also had to pay the outstanding balance of £5.5m on the £8.8m fee they agreed for Rolando Bianchi last summer while, so far, there have been no significant departures although that may change as Michael Johnson continues to stall on signing a new contract.

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