Premier League champions Manchester City have reportedly gained ground over Chelsea in the race to sign Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu, according to the Daily Mail. The 18 year old, who Spanish newspaper Marca bills as the next Lionel Messi, has an £8.1m release fee in his contract with the Nou Camp club.
The European champions were believed to be favourites to sign Deulofeu but following the turmoil at Stamford Bridge (the sacking of Champions League-winning manager Roberto Di Matteo and the poorly received appointment of ex-Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez) and a better domestic form, Roberto Mancini's side may win this battle. The Daily Mail report adds the Etihad Stadium club are willing to double Deulofeu's present wages.
The teenager is believed to be one of the brightest prospects from La Masia (the Catalan club's youth academy) and has already made his senior team debuts in both La Liga and the Champions League. And as things stand, he has so far refused to sign a professional contract with the club; he remains on a youth deal and is pushing for a first team position.
Deulofeu impressed the senior squad's reserve goal keeper, Jose Pinto, during the first team's 3-1 win over Deportivo Alaves in a domestic cup fixture. However, the veteran Pinto also cautioned the teenager from being carried away with promises from rival clubs.
"If Deulofeu continues on this path he'll consolidate himself as good player. He's already proving his worth. However, he needs to have a good head on his shoulders and keep his feet on the ground, like all the players. There is very little you have to say to the youngsters, they come up from the reserve side well trained. They know the philosophy, the game, they are so eager. They're fantastic players," the former Celta Vigo shot stopper said.
Premier League clubs' interest in Barcelona youngsters has met with criticism from club president Sandro Rossell, who has accused City and Arsenal of luring their talent with high wages.