Manchester City fear losing James Milner to Liverpool for nothing at the end of the season, despite offering to make the midfielder one of the top five best-paid English players in the Premier League.
Milner, whose deal at the Etihad expires at the end of next month, has continued to resist attempts by City manager Manuel Pellegrini and the club's hierarchy to persuade him to sign a four-year contract worth up to pounds 165,000 a week, which includes incentives on top of a basic pounds 135,000-a-week salary.
Although Wayne Rooney is the highest-earning English player at pounds 250,000 a week at Manchester United, the offer on the table for Milner would put him alongside the likes of John Terry and City team-mate Joe Hart in the list of England's best-rewarded footballers.
But with Milner rejecting City's year-long attempts to extend his contract, fears are growing at the Etihad that a pay deal bettered only by Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero at the club will not prove sufficient to convince the 29-year-old to stay.
Having opened talks with Milner and his advisers last summer over a contract extension in the wake of the club's 2013-14 Premier League title success, City were initially rebuffed by the player, who asked for time to consider his options based on his contribution to the first team this season.
With Milner unhappy at his inability to secure a regular starting position under Pellegrini, the pounds 24?million signing from Aston Villa insisted he would reassess his situation based on his senior appearances this term.
However, Milner will go into City's final game of the season at home to Southampton this weekend having made more starts, played more minutes and been used as a substitute less often than last term.
During City's title-winning campaign last year, Milner racked up 2,343 minutes on the pitch and made 21 starts in all competitions, with 23 appearances from the substitutes' bench.
This season, Milner's outing at Swansea on Sunday took his minutes on the pitch to 2,634 minutes, having made 27 starts and just 17 appearances from the substitutes' bench.
With Milner making it clear to City last summer that he was also concerned about the magnitude of the games he was playing, the former Leeds and Newcastle midfielder has started six of the club's eight Champions League games this season, compared to three of eight last term.
But while Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Edin Dzeko and Aguero have all committed to new deals since talks began last summer, Milner has continued to resist and City now believe that all avenues are almost exhausted.
Speaking in March, Pellegrini insisted that the club were doing everything possible to keep a player he described as a "phenomenon".
"The club wants Milner to continue and he wants to stay, but maybe he wants more games," Pellegrini said. "I am Milner's No?1 fan - find me a more complete English player.
"There are players who're better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes. But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn't one.
"Milner is a phenomenon, a guy with big balls and a heart this big. I hope he stays. If he doesn't, it will be because there's an important offer [from elsewhere]."
Senior figures at City have insisted the offer to Milner remains on the table, with the club still attempting to fend off Liverpool and ongoing interest from Arsenal.
But with Frank Lampard leaving for New York City FC this summer and Toure's future shrouded in uncertainty, City face losing three senior midfielders at the end of this season.
Hart says he is desperate for the midfielder to stay at the club. "James can play in 10 different positions," he said. "But it is a decision that he must take at the end of the season in terms of what is better for his future.
"He is an important player for our team, he always gives 100 per cent. It is important what he thinks, of course, but he is a very important player for us."