Debt-ridden Atletico Madrid have insisted that striker Radamel Falcao will not leave the club in the January transfer window, but ESPN understands that a move to Chelsea is the likeliest scenario for summer 2013.
The Colombian's career has caught the eye since his breakthrough campaign of 2010-11 at Porto and this season he has kept pace with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in La Liga, with all of the forwards on eight goals apiece. And now Falcao is beginning to attract similar attention.
On Tuesday, Atletico's general manager put an asking price of €60m on Falcao, claiming any such sale would immediately solve the club's financial problems. The Madrid club are believed to be in huge financial trouble, with €115m already owed to the Spanish tax authorities and prize money withheld by UEFA because of a failure to make repayments.
As such, although Atletico have insisted they are determined to hold onto Falcao this season, a transfer is likely to happen sooner rather than later. The player's desire to play for both Chelsea and Real Madrid is well known, with his own father revealing as much, but any immediate move across the Spanish capital is improbable.
That would leave big-spending Chelsea as favourites in a bidding war with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain the only other two teams capable of matching Falcao's asking price.
"The €60m for Falcao would immediately remove Atletico's economic problems," Gil Marin said. "But Falcao will carry on here, certainly until the end of the season. If Atletico don't get into the Champions League or we can't afford to pay Falcao then I don't think even Real Madrid could cover that."
For his part, Falcao last week told the Times: "England? One day I could do. It is a game I have watched for a long time and one day I would like to sample it. I used to watch it on television when I was a kid. Players like Roy Keane, Eric Cantona [Gianfranco] Zola. But the one I supported was [Faustino] Asprilla, when he was at Newcastle. I think I could adapt to England. I think could score goals."