Roman Abramovich agreed a £9m deal for Real Madrid's French midfielder Claude Makelele last night, 24 hours after Patrick Vieira decided to stay at Arsenal.
The Chelsea owner's search for a midfield enforcer had been a tough one, with Vieira his target until the Frenchman agreed a new contract at Highbury. But within hours Chelsea had thrashed out a package with Vieira's French international colleague, who will make around £50,000 a week at Stamford Bridge.
Makelele was one of the lowest paid members of the Real squad, on around £25,000 a week, and has jumped at the contract on offer, which does not break the bank at Stamford Bridge. Makelele's agent, Marc Roger, told reporters in Madrid yesterday that the player was unhappy with his pay at Real and would leave if he did not receive an increase.
Chelsea are happy to pay for someone who may be older than Vieira but is bracketed by many among Europe's best midfielders with him. Makelele fits the Vieira role at Chelsea beside Juan Sebastian Veron. He is the tackler their side lacks. Makelele was also the player Manchester United wanted to take during the negotiations for David Beckham. Now Beckham's arrival has squeezed him out, but it is still a surprise Real have let him go.
The signing, which should be confirmed today, takes Abramovich's spending to almost £85m - and there could be more deals before the end of the month.
A £20m move for Auxerre's Djibril Cissé is an option but may depend on whether Chelsea qualify for the Champions' League. Liverpool do not have the money for Cissé after failing to reach the qualifying stage.
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