By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Liverpool have stepped up their chase of English goalkeeper Jack Butland as Arsenal prepare to make an £8 million move to sign Pepe Reina.
Goal.com has learned that the Merseysiders have made third-party contact with Birmingham City about buying Butland in January.
Wigan Athletic’s Ali Al-Habsi and Swansea City’s Michel Vorm also feature on Liverpool’s wish-list as they prepare the ground for the increasingly likely departure of Reina.
The Spaniard is believed to be open to a move to Arsenal in the forthcoming window and is even ready to contemplate a drop in his £120,000-a-week Liverpool salary to push the deal through.
The firm No.1 choice to succeed Reina is Butland, who is expected to be sold by cash-strapped Birmingham next year should their valuation be met.
The Championship club rejected a £6m offer from Southampton for the 19-year-old during the summer but are unlikely to stand in the way of a move in January, given the state of their finances.
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Liverpool are wary of overpaying for potential, and will not be held to ransom, but club scouts have identified Butland as an outstanding young talent.
Butland, who has represented England at all age-group levels, came to prominence while on loan at Cheltenham Town last season before being selected in the England squad for Euro 2012 following an injury to John Ruddy. He was the Great Britain No.1 at the Olympics and then made his senior England debut in the friendly against Italy.
The teenager’s progress has continued in his first season in the Birmingham team, with West Ham and Manchester City the other clubs who are closely monitoring his progress.
However, Liverpool are the frontrunners in the race for Butland’s signature and are expected to make a formal move should Arsenal step up their pursuit of Reina.
Goal.com revealed last month that Reina tops Arsenal’s three-man goalkeeper shortlist to challenge established No.1 Wojciech Szczesny, followed by Vorm and Stoke City’s Thomas Sorensen.
Arsene Wenger is a long-time admirer of Reina, who he tried to sign from Anfield in the summer of 2010 for what the goalkeeper claimed in his recent autobiography was £20m.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers tried to flatten mounting rumours of Reina’s possible exit last week, claiming that “what is worth putting on record is that I’m not looking for another goalkeeper” and “any areas we will look to improve will be elsewhere”.
Privately, there is a growing acceptance at Anfield that the 30-year-old keeper could be ready for a new challenge.
Reina is contracted at Liverpool until 2016 and it would take an offer of around £10m to persuade the Merseysiders to part company with the fans’ favourite.