City test Villa resolve
Mancini starts bidding war for midfield star Milner with £20m offer but O'Neill holds firm
Manchester City offered an early indication of their ambitious summer spending plans by lodging a £20m bid for James Milner, the Aston Villa and England midfield player, but received a firm rejection.
After Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, quickly turned down the offer, the Midlands club said: "We plan to sit down with James and his representative after the World Cup to agree a new long-term deal and this remains our position."
Although O'Neill has been told that he must sell to buy and may welcome a bidding war if it drives the price closer to his £30m valuation, he remains loath to lose the 24-year-old Milner, described by Fabio Capello, the manager of England, as "the future of English football".
As Liverpool discovered to their cost over Gareth Barry, the former Villa midfield player, O'Neill will dig in his heels if required and will not let Milner leave for a penny below his asking price. O'Neill may even demand that Milner submit a transfer request if the player signals his desire to leave.
Milner has two years left on his existing contract but, while Villa would like to extend that deal, it seems unlikely that the player will remain at the club he joined for £12m from Newcastle United in August 2008.
Capello has made it clear that he will not allow any of his players to negotiate transfers during the World Cup and Milner is likely to want his future resolved before the start of the tournament on June 11.
Milner was named the PFA Young Player of the Year after an outstanding season that has thrust him firmly into Capello's plans.
Although a winger by trade, Milner has excelled in central midfield, while his ability to operate in either full-back position underlines his versatility and is almost certain to guarantee his inclusion in England's 23-man squad.
Chelsea are also keen to bolster the number of home-grown players at the club before the implementation of new rules governing how many foreign players over a certain age can start matches and would be interested in Milner. They are also aware that they have an ageing squad that needs an injection of young talent.
Manchester United cannot be entirely ruled out of the equation, either.
United manager Alex Ferguson has spoken glowingly of Milner in private in recent weeks, although he must weigh up whether he is prepared to enter a potential bidding war with two of the richest clubs in world football.
Villa owner Randy Lerner stated only last week in his annual media briefing at Villa Park that he was hopeful of the player remaining at Villa.
But there is no doubt Milner has become one of the hottest young properties in English football, and his value could soar even higher if he has a successful World Cup.
Both City and Chelsea want to sign Fernando Torres, the Liverpool and Spain striker, and are expected to lodge firm bids soon.
Torres is thought to favour the idea of a move to Stamford Bridge, although Liverpool know that City's interest will keep the price high in the event that they are forced to sell.
City are looking at several other midfield options in addition to Milner, with Marek Hamsik, the Napoli and Slovakia player, Steven Gerrard, of Liverpool, and Mesut Ozil, of Werder Bremen and Germany, all potential targets, although it is unlikely that they will move for more than one of them.
Angel Di María, the Benfica and Argentina winger, is also on their radar, while negotiations are well advanced over an £11m deal to take Jerome Boateng, the Hamburg and Germany defender, to the club.
© The Times, London