Roy Keane will announce within 36 hours whether he will stay with Manchester United. The Republic of Ireland international is expected to reveal his decision after tomorrow's game against Leeds United at Old Trafford.
It seems probable that a player described as "indispensable" by his manager, Alex Ferguson, will refuse the offer of a new, five-year deal, but such a move would not necessarily end his United career.
With Keane available on a free transfer when his current contract expires next summer, he could decide to continue playing for United until the end of the season.
Keane knows that his employers would place the same deal on the negotiating table in nine months' time if he was to indicate a desire to remain in the Premiership.
However, as United's offer of stg£30,000 a week falls well short of Keane's demands - he wants a weekly pay packet of stg£40,000 - Ferguson conceded that his captain may wish to take up the fresh challenge of playing in Italy's Serie A, presumably with either Inter Milan or Juventus, who both covet his combative skills.
"I don't think the things he is thinking of are all monetary," said Ferguson. "I don't know if he will sign - I think he is undecided. I think he knows how much I want him to stay. He may be wanting a change though, who knows?".
If Keane should announce that he intends to leave next summer the plc arm of United would want to sell him soon - something which Ferguson would resist.
Keane is valued at £15 million, but United will receive no fee if he sees out his current deal before signing for another club.
In his latest autobiography, Managing My Life, Ferguson admitted that attempting to work within his club's financial parameters had come to be a "wearying struggle".
"I have been severely handicapped by the club's insistence on a wage ceiling at Old Trafford," he says. "In recent years I have been keen to sign Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta and Marcel Desailly, but my hands were tied because of Manchester United's policy on salaries.
"I think the restrictions applied to wages prevented us from being the power in European football that we could have been in the 1990s."
In contrast to the uncertainty over Keane, United are close to completing a reported £1.5 million deal with Atletico Madrid for South African international midfielder, Quinton Fortune. Fortune had a medical yesterday and is expected to complete his move to Old Trafford today.
Arsenal's pre-tax profits fell last year by 70 per cent. They were down from £7.1 million in 1998 to £2.1 million in the year to May 31st 1999. The figures coincide with a sharp increase in wages, both to players and non-playing staff, from £21.8 million in 1998 to £26.4 million the following year. Transfers which came too late to be included in the club's annual report include the £23.5 million sale of Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid and the £18.5 million purchases of Thierry Henry, Davor Suker, Oleg Luzhny and Silvinho.
Anelka has been left out of the French squad for the friendly international against Northern Ireland in Belfast on Wednesday. He is not considered match fit.
Sheffield Wednesday's goalkeeper Kevin Pressman has withdrawn his transfer request. The 31-year-old has vowed instead to regain his place from Pavel Srnicek.