Chelsea and Manchester United have both registered their interest in Mousa Dembele and opened talks over a £10million move for Fulham's attacking midfielder.
Dembele's refusal to renew a contract that has just 12 months to run has attracted widespread interest, and Sportsmail can reveal that Chelsea and United have stolen a march over their rivals by starting negotiations over the fee and personal terms.
Sir Alex Ferguson has long admired the 24-year-old Belgium playmaker, while Chelsea see him as an ideal long-term replacement for Frank Lampard.
With Lampard about to turn 34, Chelsea are understood to be conducting a review of potential candidates to fill his boots a year or two down the line, and Dembele is seen as the ideal choice.
Asked about Chelsea's interest, his agent Rodger Linse said: 'It fits Mousa's ambitions perfectly to become the replacement for someone like Frank Lampard one day, just as playing in the Champions League does as well.'