Southampton are reportedly keen on signing Portugal international attacking midfielder Joao Mario, but they could face competition to bring him to St Mary’s.

The 25-year-old Inter Milan man spent six months on loan with West Ham United last season, where he scored two goals in 14 appearances in all competitions.

However, the Italian giants are ready to allow Mario to leave – for the right price – as they battle to meet Financial Fair Play restrictions.

The attacking star has failed to nail down a first-team place at the San Siro and a host of clubs have been linked with him.

There was talk of Mario heading to Tottenham Hotspur as part of a deal to take Mousa Dembele the other way.

Bournemouth and Everton are among Premier League clubs also rumoured to be interested.

However, according to a report in Stadio Sport, the Saints have joined the race and are in “pole position” along with their South Coast rivals the Cherries.

The report claims that firm offers for Mario – who wants to end his spell in Italy – will follow shortly.

His performances while on loan with the Hammers may well have encouraged Saints boss Mark Hughes to take a closer look at signing the Portuguese.

A lively player capable of playing anywhere behind a front man, Mario played a part in all four of Portugal’s World Cup matches in Russia.

With his team’s participation over following a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay, he can now focus on sorting his own future out and may want to do so quickly.

A return to the Premier League would offer Mario the opportunity to build on what looked like a promising start at West Ham.

And he would offer Southampton plenty of creativity and a goalscoring threat which they need with Dusan Tadic now having left the club.

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