Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City in three-way battle for Falcao after Hughes' Etihad return

Manchester City 0 - Stoke City 1

By Tim Rich

Perhaps it was appropriate that Mark Hughes was at the Etihad Stadium as deadline day approached.

Six years ago, when he was still manager of Manchester City, the men from Abu Dhabi who had just bought the club gave him a present of Robinho for £32m just like some people would bring a bottle of wine to a party.

Stoke's 1-0 win, with Mame Biram Diouf the scorer, was superbly organised by Hughes, and came two days before the closure of another deadline day.

Once more City were linked with a high-profile South American striker but their pursuit of Radamel Falcao has been hampered by something the Abu Dhabi United group could not have foreseen – a lack of money.

The only principal way City could pay for the Colombian and keep within Uefa's rules of Financial Fair Play would be to sell Alvaro Negredo to either Real Madrid or Valencia.

A breach of those rules had seen them fined £49m in June.

Negredo, who is still recovering from a broken foot, had been the subject of enquires from Valencia to take him on loan.

On Saturday, there was a meeting between Valencia's president, Amadeo Silva and Negredo's representatives.

Yesterday, the Spanish press reported that City wanted only a permanent transfer, which would be beyond Valencia's budget but not that of Real Madrid.

On Saturday night, Madrid was thought to be Falcao's destination with his club, Monaco, having agreed an £8m loan deal to take him to the Bernabeu for a single season with an option of a permanent deal for £24m.

Falcao tweeted: "A dream come true" followed by the only phrase David Beckham uttered on the day he was presented at the Bernabeu: "Hala Madrid".

Falcao then deleted the tweet amid reports his agent, Jorge Mendes, had met City about a permanent deal for the striker, which would be dependent on Negredo returning to Spain.

Meanwhile, Juventus were said to have lodged an offer of £16m to take Falcao to Turin for the season. Of his three possible destinations, Madrid have gone from a certainty – most bookmakers stopped taking bets on him joining Real – to the least likely.

The only certainty, as Pellegrini pointed out in the corridors of the Etihad on Saturday, where his side had been beaten for only the second time in the league, was that any transfer would not be a reaction to their failure to break down a superbly-marshalled Stoke defence.

Hughes had given an object lesson on how to overcome a club like City in their own stadium. They took their chance just before the hour and clung on to it.

"Maybe other teams will play the same way," said Pellegrini. "But I am sure our team will not play the same as they did today. Normally, we have creative players who can make a difference."

Hughes' men were beaten by Aston Villa in their opener and then held to a draw by 10-man Hull but the prize of such a major scalp should fuel their confidence.

Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic said: "It is very pleasing. It could not have gone any better. We came with a good game-plan and executed it to perfection.

"When you put that kind of work in you are going to get some rewards. We took our chance and got the three points.

"Obviously we would have liked to have to have had a few more points at this stage, but we kept believing, we stayed confident.

"We knew the quality we had in the team and that it would come through at some point.

"Hopefully we can push on now and string a few good results together and push ourselves up the table."

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