In an offseason where Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema have already made moves, Declan Rice is emerging as one of the biggest stories of the transfer window.
Arsenal appear to be closing a deal worth up to 105 million pounds ($133 million) for the England international, who has been linked with many of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Manchester City, who have also targeted the West Ham midfielder, are not prepared to match that figure, according to a person with knowledge of the Premier League champions’ transfer plans.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to comment publicly.
That seems to have cleared the way for Arsenal to make what could be one of the biggest signings in English top flight football.
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After going head-to-head in last season’s title race, City and Arsenal have been locked in a battle over Rice’s signing since the transfer window opened. Arsenal just missed out on the title after leading the table for most of the season. It might have been a different story if Rice had been in the heart of their midfield.
That’s probably what Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is confident of after making him a main target this year.
Ultimately, Arsenal ran out of steam in the title race, winning just three of their last nine games.
Rice, 24, has established himself as a leader on the field, with the energy to drive his team and the combativeness to dominate games. He is set to leave West Ham after leading them to Europa Conference League success, the club’s first major trophy in more than 40 years.
Rice is the type of player with the potential to close the gap between Arsenal and City, who have won a treble of trophies, including the Premier League title, Champions League and FA Cup.
A move to City would likely push the team further ahead of its rivals with the addition of another important player, as has been the case in recent years with the signings of Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland.
The Arsenal hierarchy is likely aware of that and is backing a major transfer campaign for Arteta after he led the club to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
Chelsea striker Kai Havertz is also expected to sign a deal worth 65 million pounds ($82 million).
Rice, a former Chelsea academy player, has also been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
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He may still be able to join City, if the Manchester club come up with more favorable payment terms for Arsenal. West Ham are reportedly not happy with the time Arsenal have proposed to pay the fee.
City’s decision not to participate in an auction is not a surprise. Despite being one of the richest clubs in the world, thanks to the backing of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, they have repeatedly refused to go beyond their own valuation of a target.
That was the case with Virgil van Dijk, Harry Maguire and Kalidou Koulibaly in previous transfer windows. But Rice’s move points to City manager Pep Guardiola’s desire to strengthen the midfield following the departure of Ilkay Gundogan to Barcelona.
Although midfielder Mateo Kovacic signed for City from Chelsea on Tuesday for £25 million ($31.6 million), doubts remain over Bernardo Silva’s future.
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