Benayoun set for £5.5m Chelsea move as Mutu row rumbles on

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The Independent Football

Chelsea were last night close to agreeing a £5.5m deal with Liverpool to sign midfielder Yossi Benayoun as replacement for Joe Cole. The Double-winners, who last week announced they would let Cole and Michael Ballack leave on free transfers, hope to confirm the signing of Benayoun by the end of the week.

On the face of it, the move is a puzzling one. Benayoun, 30, is two years older than Cole, and has failed to cement a regular first-team place at a Liverpool side that finished seventh last season. Yet Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti clearly believes the Israeli international is a better bet in Chelsea's midfield next season. Benayoun has verbally agreed terms on a four-year deal worth around £55,000 a week, and is due to have a medical at the club's training ground later this week.

The news comes on the day Chelsea won another victory in their fight to sue their former striker Adrian Mutu for £14.3m, although the Romanian international is not giving up yet. Mutu will continue to contest Chelsea's attempts to claim compensation after he tested positive for cocaine 2004, despite the latest setback when the Swiss Federal Court ruled in the Premier League club's favour.

Reports from Romania yesterday claimed Mutu's agent, Victor Becali, is looking into taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. However the player's cause is looking increasingly to be a losing one, after yesterday's judgement in Switzerland that ruled the striker must pay Chelsea the full sum in compensation.

Mutu, 31, who is currently on holiday in the Dominican Republic with his wife Consuelo Matos Gomez, a Dominican model, has been fighting a protracted legal battle with Chelsea ever since the Premier League club sacked him for taking cocaine in September 2004. Fifa, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and now the Swiss Federal Court have all found in Chelsea's favour, setting a remarkable precedent that could have far-reaching consequences for all sportsmen.

The ruling makes players directly responsible for maintaining the value of their transfer fee, which in Mutu's case was £15.8m in 2003, but for other players is worth far more, for instance Cristiano Ronaldo's world record £80m move from Manchester United to Real Madrid last summer. In the past, the size of the transfer fee was of little concern to the player, but the Mutu case has changed that.

Jamie Singer, a partner with sports law firm Onside Law, believes the case is unique. "It is a worrying development for players. It's certainly one hell of an incentive for players to behave themselves," he said. "There is now a link between the transfer fee and a player's liability. The value of the transfer fee is generally nothing to do with them but it is the market value of a player's registration. This ruling means players can be liable if, by their actions, they reduce that value."

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive the Professional Footballers' Association, is also concerned that Mutu is being held liable for the transfer fee that Chelsea paid to Parma. "I find it extremely bizarre bearing in mind that sum was what one club paid to another club, and not what the player received. He was banned from the game and that would normally be considered punishment in itself," Taylor said.

Mutu failed a routine FA drugs test at Chelsea's training ground in September 2004. Chelsea sacked him and he received a seven-month ban from football. When the suspension was up he resumed his career first at Juventus and then at Fiorentina.

Chelsea initially wanted £22.6m in damages, which reflected the £21m transfer fee they paid to Manchester City in June 2005 to sign Shaun Wright-Phillips as Mutu's replacement. Mutu defended himself by claiming Chelsea had singled him out for unfair action. Fifa ruled for Chelsea, and then when the CAS upheld Fifa's decision, Mutu claimed the CAS judges were not impartial. The Swiss Federal Court however did not agree. "This was not the case, therefore the appeal of the Romanian footballer was unfounded," it said yesterday.