Pep Guardiola is weighing up a shock move for Danny Ings as Sergio Aguero’s replacement at Manchester City.
The champions-elect are favourites to sign Erling Haaland, Europe’s most-wanted striker, from Borussia Dortmund.
But City are reluctant to get involved in a £100 million-plus bidding war with Chelsea and Manchester United for the Norwegian sensation who has scored 39 goals in 36 games for club and country this season.
And with record-breaker Aguero’s star waning at the Etihad, Southampton striker Ings, 28, is on Guardiola’s shortlist of summer targets.
But the three-cap England international has stalled on signing a new contract at St Mary’s and his current deal expires in mid-2022.
Saints have offered to make Ings the highest-paid player in the club’s history with a £100,000-a-week contract offer.
But talks have been held up by wrangling over a £20m release clause Ings’ representatives want inserted into the smallprint.
That has alerted Guardiola, who was impressed by Ings’ mobility and goal threat in City’s 1-0 win at Southampton in December.
Aguero, City’s all-time record scorer with 256 goals in 379 games, is out of contract this summer and is expected to leave after being left on the first-team fringes.
And although City are one of only a handful of clubs who could afford 20-year-old Haaland, Guardiola is not assuming they will outgun Chelsea oligarch Roman Abranmovich, United’s pulling power or Liverpool’s appetite for a rebuild.
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Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl remains hopeful Ings will stay loyal to his boyhood club.
But earlier this season, he admitted: “As long as there is no signing of the contract, a new one, the question will not stop. I can only say that we want him to stay here.
“We’ve shown as a club that we want him to be here, definitely, and he’s shown signals that he wants to stay with us.
“So I’m still positive that we’re fine together for the future.”