Manchester United were due to depart today for the club's pre-season tour of North America with the Dutch international Wesley Sneijder edging ahead of Samir Nasri, the Arsenal midfielder, as the most likely replacement for the retired Paul Scholes as Old Trafford's creative heartbeat.
Sir Alex Ferguson last month lodged a £20m offer for Nasri, who yesterday flew with Arsene Wenger's side — minus the injured Cesc Fabregas — on their own pre-season venture to Malaysia, in an attempt to take advantage of the stalemate in the French international's contract negotiations.
That bid remains on the table, but Manchester City's interest in Nasri, Wenger's determination to keep hold of the player and Sneijder's enthusiasm to engineer a move to Old Trafford have served to make the 27-year-old Inter Milan playmaker a more viable recruit.
Sneijder will this week meet with Massimo Moratti, the Inter owner, at the Italian side's pre-season retreat at Pinzolo to discuss his future.
The player, formerly of Real Madrid and Ajax, is expected to tell the oil magnate that he would consider leaving Italy but only for a club of equal stature on the global stage.
That would appear to rule out Malaga, the Arab-owned Spanish side, who are thus far the only team to have made a firm offer for his services after informing Inter they would pay their £32m asking price. Conversely, Sneijder is prepared to agitate for a move to Old Trafford.
FOOTBALL NEWS, Pages 54-55