Kalou happy to be back in from the cold

Changing priorities at Chelsea mean manager needs to utilise talents of some forgotten faces

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Under Andre Villas-Boas it was a long-term project at Chelsea; with Roberto Di Matteo it is a dash to the end of the season, competing on three fronts and with serious ground to be made up in the Premier League if the club are to claim fourth place. There is no time for feuds, which has meant that, as the games pile up, some of Chelsea's forgotten men are being called in from the cold.

In the Champions League quarter-final first leg win over Benfica on Tuesday night in Lisbon it was the turn of Salomon Kalou and Paulo Ferreira, two outsiders under Villas-Boas, to return to the big stage. The more teams that Di Matteo picks, the more it appears that he cannot have agreed with many of the decisions made by his erstwhile boss, Villas-Boas.

The goalscorer in Chelsea's 1-0 win was Kalou with just his fifth of the season – not surprising when you consider that, before he left for the African Nations Cup in January, he had featured in just eight games for Chelsea all season. Since then he has played in four out of seven of Di Matteo's matches in charge. The 26-year-old can be an erratic performer at times but, under Villas-Boas, he virtually disappeared from the first team.

 

Kalou said after Tuesday's game that he was frozen out because he refused to sign a new contract at the club. His existing deal runs out in June, putting him in a position to negotiate a lucrative Bosman free transfer in the summer. "I have been told because I didn't sign the contract I was not allowed to play," Kalou said. "For me I respect every manager, I respect the choice."

He claims that he is still yet to be offered a new deal that can be signed immediately. He has left the door open to re-signing with Chelsea although given the changes anticipated this summer that prospect seems unlikely.

Kalou said: "I have been at the club for six years, I enjoy being here. Everyone feels like family at the club. There is no reason why I don't want to stay." The interest from Arsène Wenger is not thought to be as great as it might have been in the past, although as a free agent, Kalou naturally becomes a much more attractive prospect for any club.

For one who comes across as relatively unassuming, Kalou was outspoken about his treatment under Villas-Boas. "If you don't get on the pitch, it is very hard to show your best every weekend. I feel like maybe sometimes the club never gave me the opportunity to show what I can do. That is a really big frustration for me. Hopefully this is a new beginning and everything will be all right."

Ferreira, 33, who has one year left on his existing deal at Chelsea is a different prospect. A veteran of Jose Mourinho's Porto team who came to join his manager at Stamford Bridge in 2004, his status at the club has been on the wane for years. With Branislav Ivanovic injured, Di Matteo went for Ferreira's experience over that offered by Jose Bosingwa and was rewarded with a solid performance at right-back.

Having lived through Chelsea's various failed attempts to win the competition since the Roman Abramovich revolution in 2003, Ferreira raised the possibility on Tuesday night after the game that the club's new status as relative outsiders for the Champions League might play in their favour. He compared them to the triumphant Porto team of 2004, which he was a part of.

"This is a different competition. Everyone can win it," Ferreira said. "If you remember, in 2004, I won with Porto when maybe no one expected to see Porto win the Champions League with these top, big clubs. Anything can happen in this competition. A bit of luck with the draw, a good first leg or bad leg, and anything can happen.

"We have a wonderful squad. If you see our squad, we have top players – all of them international players. But, for me, I think anything can happen. Why not? You have to believe."

Whether Ferreira would still be at the club come next season, he could not say. Having signed eight years ago he is one of the longest-serving one-club foreign players in the Premier League. While his lack of pace has meant he has been left exposed at times in the English game, he showed on Tuesday that he still offers something in the right kind of game.

"Roberto told me before the meeting that I could play this game," he said. "I was a bit [surprised] because I'd not been playing for a while and a game of this importance, quarter-finals, big game, I was not expecting that."

In fact he had not played since the defeat at home to Aston Villa on New Year's Eve and Tuesday was only his sixth appearance of the season in all competitions. "I've worked hard every day, have been as much of a professional as I can to be in condition," he said. "I know I'm not in top form but I had to play with intelligence." His rehabilitation is a sign that Di Matteo wants everyone onside for the last six weeks.

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