Everton have triggered Idrissa Gueye’s release clause at Aston Villa, according to widespread reports.
The Toffees have bid £7.1million for the Senegal midfielder as new boss Ronald Koeman aims to make his first major signing of the summer.
But Gueye is attracting attention from elsewhere, with a return to France possible, and Everton face competition with more bids expected.
Koeman has only signed goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg from Fulham for an undisclosed fee since moving from Southampton in June.
But former Leicester assistant manager Steve Walsh joined as director of football last week, which is now likely to signal the green light for Everton in the transfer market.
Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic is also reportedly a target as the Toffees try to improve following last season’s 11th-placed finish which cost ex-manager Roberto Martinez his job.
Gueye is one of the first they have moved for and Villa chief executive Keith Wyness insisted the relegated side want to keep him, even if the 26-year-old is likely to leave this summer.
He tweeted: “Re idrissa gueye (Gana), we do not welcome any interest in this player from any club #fightlikelions”.
Gueye joined Villa for around £9million from Lille last summer and made 38 appearances, scoring once, as Villa were relegated from the Premier League, winning just three games.
Boss Roberto Di Matteo is trying to trim his squad after they dropped out of the top flight for the first time since 1987, ahead of their Sky Bet Championship opener at Sheffield Wednesday on August 7.
Jordan Amavi and Jordan Veretout have also been linked with moves, while Brad Guzan is expected to join Middlesbrough.