FULHAM, Aston Villa and West Ham United are vying to sign Andy Carroll from Liverpool with AC Milan's interest in the £35m striker expected to be increased if Zlatan Ibrahimovic is sold to Paris Saint-Germain.
At present, Fulham are the only club prepared to make an offer to buy - rather than loan - Carroll, with Liverpool having already decided to contact clubs to see if they are interested in signing the England international.
It had been thought that Liverpool were seeking a loan for Carroll, whose future has been publicly questioned by new manager Brendan Rodgers, but it is understood they are interested in a sale. That would, as things stand, make Fulham the favourites if the player can be persuaded to leave.
West Ham chairman David Sullivan was due to meet Carroll's agent, Mark Curtis, today but sources at the newly promoted Premier League club still rate the chances of success at little more than "10 per cent".
Nevertheless West Ham are keen to make a 'marquee' signing and will continue to push for Carroll. Even if the 23-year-old did go out only on loan, it would be an expensive deal with Liverpool expected to demand a big loan fee and a high portion, if not all, of his wages being covered.
Fulham want to acquire a powerful striker having missed out on Russia international Pavel Pogrebnyak, who was on loan last season but has since agreed a permanent deal with Reading. With Fulham having sold Bobby Zamora to Queens Park Rangers in January and Andy Johnsonthen leaving for the same club, they are short of strikers.
Fulham are also acutely aware of Liverpool's interest in Clint Dempsey, who has just one more year left on his contract at Craven Cottage.
Liverpool, however, are resisting the £7m plus being asked for by Fulham for a player who is 29.
Liverpool are expected to tomorrow announce the signing of Fabio Borini from Roma for around £11m, which will raise further questions over Carroll's chances of regular first-team football this season.
Tottenham have turned down the chance to make an offer, after being contacted on Tuesday by Liverpool, who were in contact with a number of clubs, although Villa have registered an interest through new manager, Paul Lambert. However, it is understood that Carroll does not want to join Villa and might prefer a move to London if he is made to leave.
Rodgers, meanwhile, admits it may take four years for Liverpool to compete for Champions League places and suggests he may have left the club before the work he puts in place reaps trophies.
Rodgers said: "The challenge is immense," he said. "The club and where it was at over the years -- will any club ever do that again? That's a big question. But I certainly think with a club of our status and value to the football world that we can go again.
"It's going to take time. And whether it will be in my time, I'm not so sure."