Chelsea are to follow their decision to release both Joe Cole and Michael Ballack by announcing that they have agreed a two-year contract extension with striker Nicolas Anelka.
At 31 Anelka is three years older than Cole, but the Frenchman has become a far more important player for Chelsea, having started 41 games in the club's Double-winning season compared to Cole's total of 22 starts. Anelka's current deal runs out in a year's time but they have moved to tie him to the club until 2013 on a contract worth around £80,000 a week. The two sides have reached agreement and an announcement of the new deal is expected soon.
After a slow start Anelka has gradually become a key figure at Chelsea, scoring 43 goals in 101 starts since moving to Stamford Bridge from Bolton for £15m in January 2008.
Anelka's new deal follows last week's announcement that Michael Essien had agreed a two-year contract extension, even though he had three years left to run on his existing £80,000-a-week deal. Essien, 27, is considered a key player by Chelsea, even though he has been sidelined with knee injuries for long periods in the last two years. He is currently recovering at the club's Cobham training ground from the knee injury which ruled him out of Ghana's squad for the World Cup.
The treatment of Essien and Anelka is in sharp contrast to the ruthless way Chelsea have dispensed with the services of Cole and Ballack after failing to agree terms on new contracts, and demonstrates a renewed desire to reduce the club's £167m wage bill. Chelsea have also allowed Juliano Belletti to leave, and are negotiating the transfer for a nominal fee of high-earning midfielder Deco to Brazilian side Fluminese. The release of those four players has trimmed around £20m from the wage bill, allowing Chelsea to sign new players this summer while still keeping salaries in check.
Cole promised yesterday that his status as an unattached player will not affect his focus on England's World Cup challenge and said his future will not be decided until after the World Cup. "Chelsea is not a distraction," he said. "I am fully focussed on winning the World Cup with England. My agent is doing it. I don't want to be told what is happening until after the World Cup."
The news of Chelsea's decision came as a shock to Ballack, who is currently on holiday in Miami. His agent Michael Becker said: "He was completely surprised. He has not spoken to Chelsea for three months."