By Andy Brassell
West Ham United's hopes of luring Juan Roman Riquelme to the Premier League have taken a knock after the free agent received a huge offer from Cruzeiro - the second Brazilian side to try and tempt the Argentinian playmaker into staying in South America.
Joint Hammers chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold were claimed to have offered Riquelme a two-year-deal to come to England, with the player reported to be keen to start a new life in London after leaving Boca Juniors, despite mooted interest from rival Premier League clubs.
Yet the move is in serious doubt after Cruzeiro president Zeze Perrella confirmed to Brazilian sports daily Lance that the Belo Horizonte club have made a strong play for the midfielder.
"Riquelme's going to have a European salary, playing in Brazil," Perrella told the newspaper, confirming that the approach was made via Riquelme's former international team-mate - and ex-Cruzeiro player - Juan Pablo Sorin. "He has already said to Sorin that if he comes to play in Brazil, he wants to play at Cruzeiro. It's for this reason that I'm really hopeful."
Perrella said that like West Ham, Cruzeiro have put a two-year deal on the table, worth nearly £4.5 million. The president said that 70 per cent of Riquelme's salary would be funded by Sao Paulo-based pharmaceutical company EMS Sigma Pharma. "I don't want to create false expectations among our support," he said, "but it's our wish to bring Riquelme here."
Cruzeiro's offer already seems to have seen off domestic competition in the shape of champions Flamengo, who have just offloaded their highest earner in Adriano, after The Emperor returned to Italy with Roma. "The proposal [we made] was very good," enthused Perrella. "It's double what Boca Juniors would pay him. And it's 30 per cent more than Flamengo's offer."
It remains to be seen what Riquelme decides to do. "We're going to wait. He asked to have until the end of the week to decide," said Perrella. The Argentinian, who turns 32 next Wednesday, may decide that too much risk is involved in moving to England, and in attempting to adapt to a physical championship that seems ill-suited to his classical style.