Manchester United are set to be tempted by a £5m bid from Paris St-Germain for Patrice Evra, which would allow them to recoup virtually their entire outlay on a defender who is no longer reaching the heights of previous seasons.
Evra, a PSG supporter, is understood to be keen on the idea of playing for the club. He has always said that it is his aspiration to conclude his career at his hometown side, who gave him the big break in 1997 which he was unable to take. The 31-year-old eventually sought a route into football through Italy after several months' work at PSG's Camp des Loges training complex came to nothing.
A left-back is one of PSG's three primary targets for January and Evra could see his £90,000-a-week salary increase by joining the club that is now funded by the Qatar Investment Authority.
The Parisians, who may also be entertaining the idea of a move for Manchester City's Gaël Clichy if the Evra move fails, would need to make their offer to United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, an attractive one because the club have not found an adequate replacement for Evra. Fabio da Silva, currently on loan at Queen's Park Rangers, has not demonstrated that he is ready to return to Old Trafford and step up. Neither has Alex Buttner suggested that he is anything more than back-up for Evra. United's decision to pay £4m to Vitesse Arnhem for the 23-year-old, who did not set the world alight in his three years there, has puzzled some observers in the Netherlands.
United would have to buy a straight replacement for Evra, who has two years still to run on the contract he renewed in 2010, and that means the PSG price would have to be right. The poor relationship between Ferguson and the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright could be an impediment to United signing Leighton Baines as a replacement – a move that fell through this summer. The two clubs have done business recently, though, in the sale of Darron Gibson to Goodison last January. Suggestions that United might be interested in Chelsea's Ashley Cole, who has also been strongly linked with PSG, are understood to be wide of the mark.
Ferguson may be tempted to seek a like-for-like replacement if Evra wants to leave. The United manager considers the dire standard of his side's defending in last season's 4-4 draw with Everton to have been key to the side losing the title and Evra was a prime culprit, allowing the Everton right-back Tony Hibbert space to cross for the visitors' first and second goals.
Evra currently has the prestige of the United captaincy, though that is only temporary, with Nemanja Vidic possibly back in United's side for Sunderland's visit a week tomorrow. With the 32-year-old, long-serving Sylvain Armand and the Brazilian Maxwell, 31, having shared the left-back duties at the Parc des Princes this season, their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has identified a replacement as a priority for January – along with a proven goalscorer to supplement Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
After what was initially to have been a quiet window for PSG, it seems they will also seek to prise the dynamic midfielder Marek Hamsik away from Napoli.
Ferguson said this week, "God knows what's going to happen to us" against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday if a United defence which has conceded 32 goals in all competitions this season do not improve on the 4-3 win at Reading last weekend.
Rafael was unhappy to have been substituted after a mere 31 minutes of that game and, though Ferguson claimed he was injured, the Brazilian was on the bench for United's Champions League defeat to Cluj on Wednesday night.
Rafael laughed nervously when it was suggested he was unhappy to have been taken off again. "I don't know why we have had problems defending this season," he said. "Sometimes we have conceded and we need to work on this.
"Yes, if we defend like we have in some games we will be in real trouble against a team like City. That's 100 per cent sure. They have a very good attack with quality strikers. This will be our biggest test of the season."