Manchester City send Patrick Vieira in pursuit of French prodigy
Manchester City are pursuing one of France's most promising talents, the 16-year-old Le Havre midfielder Jules Ntcham, in the hope that the influence of their executive Patrick Vieira might be able to see off the challenge of Internazionale and Juventus for his signature.
Ntcham is a source of huge excitement in France, where he is seen as the next big talent, because of his immense versatility operating from midfield. A player from the Paris suburbs, observers in France see him in the mould of Vieira, Abou Diaby or Marcel Desailly as an individual who can open up defences, attack and defend from the centre.
The teenager did not progress through the Clairefontaine academy but instead played for a number of small clubs before joining Paris FC, who are not fully professional but with a first team playing in the French third division are renowned for their youth system. That is where Le Havre spotted him.
City consider the dearth of emerging potentially elite talents at Platt Lane to be one of the major challenges on the road ahead as they seek to become domestic champions in the next few years and mount a serious assault on the Champions League. The pursuit of Ntcham reflects that concern.
Even though the teenager will have grown up watching him, Vieira will need all his powers of persuasion for them to secure him. When Ntcham captained and opened the scoring for France's Under-16s against Wales last September, scouts from many European clubs watched him.
Manchester United, Milan and Arsenal are also aware of the potential of a player not dissimilar to United's Paul Pogba.
Though Ntcham is three years younger than Pogba, he is much more developed physically and at 6ft, with more growth to come, currently looks the greater physical presence. The technical accomplishment which accompanies his physicality is eye-catching.
Though City, who will also pursue Lille's Eden Hazard this summer, faced claims of poaching when they signed Jérémy Hélan from Rennes three years ago, Ntcham does not yet have a professional contract and, having turned 16 two months ago, could move for free.
Moreover, as Le Havre only signed him in the summer of 2010, there would not be a massive development fee either, just an element of compensation and a sell-on clause.
Of course, Ntcham may decide to stay at Le Havre to continue his development in his own country for now. Despite the clamour for Hélan, the 19-year-old has yet to start a game for City and has spent the last six months on loan at Carlisle United.
Meanwhile, City's Mario Balotelli has said that Roberto Mancini does not want him out of the club this summer. "After my last red card he [Mancini] feared I would get a big ban, that is why he spoke so harshly [about me]," he said. "We have cleared it up, and I know he believes in me. Like he always has. Now I am thinking only about winning the title. I'm certain United will make a false step."
Of the challenge on Arsenal's Alex Song for which he risked a ban running to nine games, Balotelli said: "The problem is, if I don't press, they accuse me of not helping the team. I always want to give everything. It is also true, however, that if others commit fouls, they pass unnoticed."
Balotelli said his "reference point" was Carlos Tevez. "When I arrived here, I used to train for fun. But from him I am learning to give everything every day. Carlitos is really special. In this way, he is very similar to Ibra [Zlatan Ibrahimovic]." To the notion that he might seek psychiatric help to resolve the chaos in his life, he said: "I think psychiatrists are important. Sometimes their help can be very useful, but I don't need one, thanks."