The longest transfer saga of the summer took another turn yesterday when Aulas claimed that both United and Arsenal had entered the bidding process for the 22-year-old who has already been the subject of one failed bid of £21m from the Premiership champions. The Lyons president has fought long and hard to obtain a price from Chelsea closer to the £32m he believes they offered for Steven Gerrard and has gone to great lengths to undermine chief executive Peter Kenyon.
His latest move was the claim that Abramovich would be entering the torturous negotiations for Essien in a meeting with the French champions next week. However, Chelsea have vehemently denied that their Russian owner will personally intervene to close the deal for the player who they still believe will be at Stamford Bridge by the end of the month.
Already Lyon have accused Jose Mourinho of keeping in regular contact with Essien despite the two clubs failing to reach an agreement for the player and Kenyon is even understood to have been abandoned in a restaurant by Aulas after breaking off from the club's tour of America to travel to France to finalise the deal. Yesterday Aulas raised the stakes by claiming that the player was also a serious target for United and Arsenal.
He said: "It is tedious to lose one of the best players in Europe but he has not left yet. We can still find a compromise so that he only leaves next year. Chelsea will have to show themselves to be very persuasive for us to let him leave.
"Manchester [United] want him just as much. This Essien story does not weary me. Perhaps it will be solved on 1 September and not on 31 July. I have more resistance than some people have imagined. The more Chelsea wait, the more they will be put in difficulty, not just compared to Lyon, but also compared to another English club which has just lost a defensive midfielder."
That club are certain to be Arsenal although there have been few signs from Highbury that they would be able to come close to matching a Chelsea bid for Essien. And despite playing against United in the Champions' League last season, the player is not understood to have been one of Sir Alex Ferguson's priorities at the start of the summer. Both clubs would be unwilling to bid for a player who has emphatically stated his desire to join Chelsea.
Chelsea are confident that injuries sustained by William Gallas, Claude Makelele and Arjen Robben before and during the 1-1 draw with Milan in New Jersey will not be sufficiently serious to rule the three players out of this Sunday's FA Community Shield match against Arsenal. Gallas and Makelele suffered knee and head injuries respectively, while Robben missed the match owing to a hamstring problem which has been giving him trouble for the last few weeks.
The assistant manager Steve Clarke said: "William got a kick on the knee and in pre-season, you do not want to take any risks with your players. Claude got a bang on the head and it is a similar scenario. It is pre-season, we need to look after our players and make sure they are fit for the start of the season."
Although Robben was not in the side for the match, Clarke said that the Dutch winger's exclusion was purely a cautionary measure to protect the player's notoriously injury-prone hamstrings. Clarke said: "He was being ultra-cautious. He said before the game he felt his hamstring was a little bit tight, so with it being pre-season, we did not think it was worth the risk."
While Chelsea have been accused of tapping up players such as Ashley Cole, over the last 12 months the club have revealed that they themselves were the victims of an unusually daring illegal approach last month. The club's mascot, 'Stamford the Lion', was stolen from Stamford Bridge in the early hours of Saturday 23 July and the club have now launched an appeal for his safe return ahead of their first major appearance of the season at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff this weekend. A spokesman for the club said: "We appeal to the public to assist us on the safe return of our beloved mascot."