UK mobile phone company Vodafone has expressed an interest in buying Vivendi Universal.

Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin said that he would not rule out buying the whole of the French media group in order to get his hands on SFR, France's second largest mobile operator, which Vodafone owns jointly with Vivendi.

Sarin told a Foreign Press Association meeting in London: "This (a takeover of Vivendi) is not our first preference, this is not our second preference ... (But) I can't sit here and say to you that we are willing to rule that option out."

But it is unlikely that Vodafone would want to retain other key Vivendi Universal assets such as Canal Plus.

According to reports, Vodafone is understood to have identified at least one French media group that would have been interested in buying the Canal Plus stake, enabling Vodafone to circumvent political sensitivities over the TV group's ownership.

Vivendi has slimmed down considerably over the past 18 months as it has struggled to pay off its heavy debt. It has agreed to sell its US media assets to NBC, the broadcasting arm of General Electric, and sold its publishing arm to Lagardere.

According to the Financial Times, analysts said Sarin's comments indicated a takeover of Vivendi was a low priority. One said: "The time frame he puts on acquiring SFR is two to three years, so it is quite clear this is a last option. It looks like he just wants to be sure that he can't be reproached for ruling out this route if he resorts to a takeover down the line."

Vodafone, the world's largest mobile phone company, has won a reputation for aggression since former CEO Chris Gent masterminded a record Euros 180bn hostile takeover of former German ally Mannesmann in 2000 to gain control of key wireless businesses in Germany and Italy.