With the transfer window opening, there is bad news for the supporters of those clubs trying to compete with Manchester United. The Premier League champions and European Cup winners are looking to make three major signings – a striker, a midfielder and a right-back and have ample funds, up to £70m including wages, available. The good news? Well plenty of other clubs have money too and, if United splash out, they may be prepared to spend that bit more.
Indeed the signings by Tottenham Hotspur of Luka Modric, for £16.5m, and Chelsea of Jose Bosingwa for a similar fee, would indicate that it is going to be a summer of spending to surpass all others. And that both Spurs and Chelsea, who are attempting major overhauls of their squads with goings as well as comings, along with United, Manchester City, probably Aston Villa and highly-ambitious, cash-rich Sunderland are going to be at the head of the queue.
Even Arsenal, having amazingly turned a healthy profit in the market last summer, are looking to splash out this time round. Well, a little anyway with Arsène Wenger set to secure the signature of Marseilles's attacking midfielder Samir Nasri for £12.5m – to replace the departing Alexander Hleb – next week and then add a no-nonsense central defender, another attacking player, a defensive midfielder and, maybe, an experienced goalkeeper to that. It could be even more if Wenger continues to lose patience with Emmanuel Adebayor.
As ever strikers are at a premium and the next big deal to be completed is likely to be the arrival of the Brazilian striker Jo from CSKA Moscow for £20m. The most likely destination for the 21-year-old, whose purchase is not as complicated as claimed because he is not, as has been stated, part-owned by the investment company MSI, is Manchester City, who are desperate to land a top-notch goal-scorer, although they face competition from Spurs, Everton and Valencia.
Heavily involved in that transfer is businessman and adviser Kia Joorabchian, who heads a consortium of financial backers, and who is no longer involved with MSI. He, like many others, forecasts a busy summer. "Big clubs will try to do their business early," Joorabchian says. "They won't panic and there will be five or six very big transfers this summer. But there will also be plenty of movement further down the League. You can see that already with, for example, Mark Schwarzer leaving Middlesbrough for Fulham and it will get busier the nearer we get to the transfer window closing. Then you will see clubs, the promoted ones in particular, worrying about whether or not their squads are strong enough to survive."
It is a view that is largely shared by agent Colin Gordon, a director of Key Sports Management, which represents players such as Theo Walcott and David James. He says: "It's going to be busy. Certainly clubs are more determined than ever to make sure they have the right squads and players to either get to the 'Promised Land' of the Premier League or stay there. At the same time there seems to be a lot more common sense from clubs in terms of the prices they want to pay – although it only takes one or two to pay ridiculously over the odds for that to change. Clubs also seem to be keen to do their business earlier. Maybe that's because of the European Championships which are coming up fast. The clubs appear to want to get their squads settled."
That could be delayed by the scale and complexity of some of the deals being discussed especially as they involve some big-name, big-salary strikers leaving – with the wage demands of Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o, who wants £128,000-a-week after tax, pricing him out of a move to Britain. Didier Drogba is due to be sold by Chelsea – probably to one of the two Milan clubs – and may be followed through the exit door by team-mate Nicolas Anelka, while Andrei Shevchenko is seeking to clarify his future and should depart, too. It means Chelsea are in the market, with Robinho's agent claiming that talks have already took place over a £28m transfer from Real Madrid. Ajax's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – also interesting United – Internazionale's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stuttgart's Mario Gomes would all be possibilities for Stamford Bridge, as would the Porto winger Ricardo Quaresma, available for £25m, although he is also wanted by Inter.
Anelka could, indeed, replace Dimitar Berbatov at Tottenham whose sale will help finance much of the spending at White Hart Lane, although they would, also, dearly love to recoup some of the £16m spent on Darren Bent and may also turn to Real Zaragoza's Diego Milito. Spurs are struggling to land the Bolivian striker Marcelo Moreno, available for around £6m from Brazilian club Cruzeiro. However, Moreno is also wanted by Shakhtar Dontesk and may have problems gaining a work permit for England.
Berbatov, also of interest to Chelsea, should move abroad, while United, who are also looking at Seville's Luis Fabiano, will offload Louis Saha – who could attract interest from Spurs and his former club Fulham. Liverpool, whose manager Rafael Benitez is desperate to generate funds to compete with United, are looking to sell both Peter Crouch and Andrei Voronin, along with Jermaine Pennant, Scott Carson, Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise, while Harry Kewell will be released.
With the takeover of the club by Dubai International Capital still not complete, the deals need to be done to help Liverpool pay for the planned arrivals of Gareth Barry, left-back Andrea Dossena from Udinese and, maybe, Blackburn's David Bentley who is also wanted by Chelsea and Spurs.
Goalkeepers, like strikers, are also in high demand. Arsenal, Spurs, Villa – who have decided against signing Carson from Liverpool – and Middlesbrough are just four clubs desperate to recruit, which is why PSV Eindhoven are holding out for the £12.5m release fee in the contract of Heurelho Gomes, who is desperate to leave the Dutch club and is also attracting the attention of Milan.
A major factor in all of this is the number of clubs looking to change their managers or who have yet to appoint a new one. They include two of the biggest potential spenders – City and Chelsea – while an added consideration is the forthcoming European Championship, with potential candidates such as Luiz Felipe Scolari, who would like to join Chelsea as City's interest in him cools, and Croatia's Slaven Bilic, involved.
City also have a fight on their hands to keep Micah Richards, especially as fellow defender Richard Dunne is set to quit with Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan keen to sign him. City are determined not to lose Richards, especially as he recently signed a new contract, and they regard him and goalkeeper Joe Hart as their most important assets. But a bid of between £20m-£25m from Chelsea or United – who are interested but may pursue Seville's Daniel Alves because of the difficulty in signing someone from their local rivals – would severely test their resolve. United, who have sold Gerard Pique back to Barcelona and may complete the permanent signing of Carlos Tevez this summer, need a replacement for Gary Neville.
City, who are also tracking CSKA's Daniel Carvalho, like Spurs, are trying to head the group of ambitious clubs just below the top four – and perhaps will eventually challenge them. Also in that group are Villa, Portsmouth, although it is unclear how much they have to spend even if manager Harry Redknapp is pushing ahead with a number of bids, including a move for Lyons' attacking midfielder Sidney Govou and the Rennes defender John Mensah, and Everton. Having finished fifth, Everton know they have to look over their shoulders as much as ahead of them and manager David Moyes is keen to spend. The Heerenveen attacking midfielder Michael Bradley is in his sights, while a decision will have to be taken on whether to retain Andrew Johnson.
Looking further down the table, and beyond well-run Blackburn who have recruited cleverly under Mark Hughes and want to make more shrewd signings, such as the Espanyol pair of defender Marc Torrejon Moya and striker Ferran Corominas Telechea, there are West Ham and Newcastle United. The Hammers intend to reduce their squad and trim their wage bill, and are placing much of their future recruitment in the hands of new technical director Gianluca Nani. The latter are also trying to off-load some high-earners, which may see Obafemi Martins and Damien Duff go, while a main striker, such as Crouch or St-Etienne's Bafetimbi Gomis, is a priority. A complication is the apparent conflict between what Keegan, who wants to buy British-based established stars, and executive director Dennis Wise want.
Also in the north-east, Middlesbrough have far less to spend than Sunderland – who may be looking for a whole new team beyond Craig Gordon, Andy Reid and Kenwyne Jones, with Reading's Stephen Hunt a particular target. Boro are trimming their older, high earners and may push for Bradley or Newcastle's James Milner and Spurs' Tom Huddlestone, especially if Gary O'Neil leaves and they miss out on Chelsea's Steve Sidwell.
Wigan Athletic, too, have money, with the main priority being a goalscorer and Birmingham City's Olivier Kapo, while they may face a fight to hold onto Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios. Given Wigan are prepared to pay high wages, recruitment should not be a problem but has proved to be one throughout their time in the Premier League. It means they continue to look abroad, in South America and Africa in particular. Talks are underway with Le Mans' Hassan Yebda.
At the bottom of this season's table, Fulham have already released eight players and it is believed that owner Mohamed Al Fayed has regained his love of football and will invest, with strikers desperately needed. Bolton have not replaced Anelka but the cash from his sale in January should swell their funds. Their main target appears to be Toulouse's Johan Elmander, although Gomis is also an interest as is Hertha Berlin's Marko Pantelic.
Of the promoted clubs, West Bromwich Albion will continue to cast their net far and wide but may lose Hungarian midfielder Zoltan Gera, while both Stoke City and Hull City have said they will not be wholesale buyers. The likelihood is that they will follow the example of Bolton under Sam Allardyce and go for experienced heads on short-term contracts who earn big money but do not command big fees.
Five to follow: Players set to spark transfer battles
The 21-year-old Brazilian striker from CSKA Moscow is close to completing a £20m move to Manchester City, which would smash their transfer record, but they face competition from Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Valencia. Jo – full name Joao Alves de Assis Silva – is big and quick and appears ideally suited to the Premier League.
Liverpool, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Newcastle are all looking at the Portuguese international central defender – but his club, Porto, are demanding far in excess of the £10m fee that has been mooted for the 26-year-old and have told interested clubs they want closer to double that amount.
Rafael Benitez has taken the unusual step of fixing a price – £15m – for the Liverpool striker. The fee is far too high, particularly as he only has one year left on his contract, but there will be plenty of interest at a lower figure. Manchester City, Portsmouth, Villa and Newcastle are monitoring developments.
The American, in the squad to face England tonight, is an attacking midfielder who plays for Dutch club, Heerenveen. The 20-year-old is much in demand, with Middlesbrough set to make a bid this week in the hope of getting ahead of their rivals, who includeBlackburn, Everton and Newcastle. He should cost £4m.
Nine Premier League clubs have expressed an interest in the Chelsea midfielder with Aston Villa believed to be leading the race. Sidwell accepts he will have to take a significant pay cut but also that he does not have a future at Stamford Bridge. The 25-year-old should cost around £4.5m.