Milan last night finally conceded that Andrei Shevchenko will be sold to Chelsea in what vice-president Adriano Galliani described as the "most painful divorce" the club have ever experienced.
Galliani, who held meetings yesterday with Shevchenko before a hastily-convened press conference, said: "We will begin negotiations with Chelsea. But it will not be easy." The talks will be made easier, however, if the Premiership champions agree to Milan's demands and include William Gallas in the deal. The defender, who has just one year left on his contract and is refusing to sign a new deal, is desperate to leave Chelsea and was in Milan last week to hold talks.
Chelsea want to keep Gallas and are also convinced that the Italians will ask for another of their unsettled players, the striker Didier Drogba, as part of the negotiations. Even if both players are included Milan will expect some cash as well. Although Chelsea are keen to offload Hernan Crespo they will allow Gallas to leave if it's a "deal-breaker".
Shevchenko is expected to be sold for around €50m (£35.2m) which represents an astonishing return on a striker who is 30 this year and who has been at Milan for seven years. It will also be a new Chelsea - and Premiership - transfer record. However Milan were keen to keep him and hoped that last week's concession of a two-year contract extension, keeping Shevchenko until 2011, would swing things back in their favour.
That hope has proved unfounded. Chelsea will now land their No 1 target at the fourth attempt in what is a triumph for owner Roman Abramovich who has personally conducted the talks this time, dealing with the player directly. Shevchenko yesterday formally submitted a transfer request - itself a significant step for such a big-name player - and appeared alongside Galliani at Milan's offices.
"I am leaving for family reasons - I want to thank the club for everything it has given me," Shevchenko said. "There's no problems regarding my relationship with anyone in the club or any financial problems.
"My wish is that the club can evaluate my transfer. Of course I am saddened because I have seen the looks on the faces of the fans and because of the many messages I have received." Galliani, in day-to-day control of the club owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said: "It's a victory of the English language over the Italian language."
That was a thinly-veiled reference to the role played in the saga by Shevchenko's American wife Kirsten Pazik, who is friends with Abramovich's wife Irina, and is keen to leave Italy and move to an English-speaking country. The couple have an 18-month-old son called Jordan Andrei whose godfather is Berlusconi.
However Shevchenko rejected suggestions that his wife had dictated his departure. "My wife has nothing to do with this," he said. "We decided together for the best interests of our family. I don't speak English, my wife does not speak Ukrainian - the only language we have in common is Italian and the only way to teach our children the love that we have for them is the English language."
His capture will be Chelsea's second major signing of the summer, following the arrival of Michael Ballack, and the club will now push ahead with plans for a new left-back. A two-year deal, with an option for a third year, has already been offered to 33-year-old Roberto Carlos although he is hoping Real Madrid want to keep him.
Shevchenko joined Milan from Dynamo Kiev in 1999 and is the second highest scorer in the club's history behind Gunnar Nordahl with 173 goals. Shevchenko scored 19 goals in 28 Serie A matches last season and also struck nine times in the Champions' League. He will now provide the star quality that Abramovich feels his team lacks.
Meanwhile, the Chelsea striker Carlton Cole has agreed to join Tottenham Hotspur for £2m with Spurs confirming that Egyptian Mido has returned to Roma after his 18-month loan spell. Goran Bunjevcevic and Noureddine Naybet have also been released, and a one-year option has been taken up on the Irish defender Stephen Kelly.Reuse content