Manchester City's chief executive Garry Cook was unwilling to be dragged into an auction as talks began with Udinese for the Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez yesterday, despite his £25m valuation falling short of the Italian club's expectations.
City will not pay a £2m to £3m premium for players as in previous years and, though add-ons may help take the club's figure closer to the £31m that Udinese's owner Giampaolo Pozzo wants, negotiations may take some time to reach their conclusion.
A cash-plus-player deal may be the way towards a compromise – City's Vladimir Weiss could be a makeweight – but discussions were not at that stage last night, when the Italians were still deciding who to do business with.
Despite manager Roberto Mancini's desire to have City's summer transfer business tied up inside 40 days, before the club's return for pre-season training, this pursuit may prove to be a far longer affair. City could find themselves in competition with Manchester United, Barcelona and Internazionale for the 22-year-old striker.
With the pursuit of Sanchez City's prime objective, moves to bring Gary Cahill from Bolton to Eastlands have assumed secondary importance and there is currently no progress on that front, despite Arsenal's interest. That position may change if Jérôme Boateng goes to Bayern Munich, with whom the defender declared yesterday he had agreed a four-year deal. Boateng said City were "making things a bit difficult", though Bayern's reluctance to offer anything near the £10.46m City paid Hamburg for him a year ago is the key impediment.
Boateng is one of a group of players City will reluctantly let go if they wish to leave. But the club do feel that the 23-year-old's value as a proven young international defender with a World Cup pedigree makes him worth more than they paid for him, in a summer market which saw Phil Jones fetch £16.5m in moving from Blackburn Rovers to Old Trafford.
Nedum Onuoha is another central defender who wants to go, though Sunderland have not followed up their interest in a player for whom City may want £6m. Uncertainty also surrounds the future of Patrick Vieira, who has not been named on City's retained list with the Premier League, in what might be a sign that he has fallen out of contract and is now available to other clubs on a free transfer.
Vieira has been considering retirement, but his exclusion does not necessarily mean he has played his last game for City. The reserve goalkeeper Stuart Taylor was also excluded from the retained list last summer.
Reports from Argentina that Carlos Tevez is back together with his estranged wife Vanessa appear to be accurate, which might augur ill for the prospects of a return to City since it was her struggle to settle in Britain that occasioned the player's separation from his daughters, which he says has affected him. The willingness of a buyer to pay City's £50m price tag will ultimately dictate his future.