Fernando Torres will not leave Chelsea in the January transfer window but for the first time doubts over the long-term Stamford Bridge future of the most expensive player in British football history have emerged.
Chelsea yesterday moved swiftly to dismiss speculation the club would consider bids of as little as £20m for the Spain international, who has scored just three Premier League goals since moving to west London from Liverpool on the final day of this year's January transfer window, insisting the 27-year-old remains "part of the club's long-term plans".
More pressingly, of course, Torres will be expected to lead the line for Andre Villas-Boas's side when Didier Drogba departs for the African Cup of Nations next month. The Ivorian could be absent for as much as six weeks, and with Nicolas Anelka due to depart for Shanghai and Salomon Kalou likely to follow, the Portuguese manager will be left with just Torres and Daniel Sturridge as senior forwards.
But it is thought Villas-Boas would be willing to countenance a sale in the summer, should a suitable offer arrive. The manager discussed the possibility of selling the striker last summer, just six months into his career at the club, only to afford him a second chance to rediscover his spark; Torres's poor displays, combined with Villas-Boas's interest in the likes of Edinson Cavani, the Napoli striker, and his former charge Radamel Falcao – once of Porto and now with cash-strapped Atletico Madrid – indicate that he will not be afforded a third.
Cavani, the prolific Uruguay international, has been in a rich vein of form ever since moving to Napoli, helping the club beat Manchester City to a place in the Champions League knockout stages.
Falcao, meanwhile, was Villas-Boas's primary attacking requirement last summer, but joined Atletico – Torres's former club – for £38m when the manager elected to stand by the Spaniard and Drogba. The Spanish side's financial troubles, though, would make a sale possible. Villas-Boas is not thought to be targeting a striker in the January transfer window, despite the absence of Drogba.
Chelsea also issued a stringent denial yesterday that Ashley Cole was responsible for a 30-man mêlée in the Stamford Bridge tunnel after Monday's 2-1 victory over Manchester City. A club statement read: "Contrary to reports, Ashley Cole did not say anything to the opposition in the tunnel... Ashley has huge respect for the players and staff at Manchester City, many of whom he knows personally."