Chelsea yesterday admitted for the first time they are keen to recruit new players in January, despite currently being banned from signing anyone until 2011.
As The Independent revealed yesterday, Chelsea are close to having their transfer ban frozen by the Court of Arbitration for Sport while they await the outcome of their appeal against Fifa's ruling. The club yesterday confirmed they have several targets in mind in readiness for the ban being temporarily lifted for the window.
Chelsea's assistant manager Ray Wilkins, deputising for manager Carlo Ancelotti who was visiting his sick father in Italy, confessed the club are concerned about the situation in January, when four key players will be away at the African Nations Cup.
Wilkins said Chelsea do not know yet for certain whether they will be cleared for transfer activity in the new year. But he said the club's scouts are working as normal, in anticipation of a ruling by CAS that is likely to allow Chelsea to register new players in January.
The thought of having to cope without Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel has focused minds at Stamford Bridge. Wilkins said: "I am sure Carlo has a few names he would like to bring in. It's the same as any other team – you are always looking to strengthen. We wouldn't suggest for one minute we are not concerned. If you look at the four going away, and take the equivalent four from any team in the country you're naturally concerned.
"They are top-quality footballers and we will miss them. It would be very pleasant to bring people in because we will lose extremely influential players in Didier, Salomon, Michael and John. If the ban is lifted, then all well and good. If it's not, then we will have to crack on."
Wilkins' admission suggests a total change of policy at Chelsea concerning the need to buy players in January. In early September, when Fifa announced their two-window ban on Chelsea over the signing of Gaël Kakuta from Lens in 2007, Ancelotti made it clear the club had not been not planning to recruit. At the time he said: "We didn't think we would bring any new players in during January, even before this happened."
The big question now for Chelsea is if they just buy stop-gap players to get them through the tricky January period, or if they splash out to see them through the next two windows.
Joe Cole is expected to make his first Premier League start for nine months against Blackburn Rovers this afternoon. Cole has been a marginal figure since returning from a cruciate ligament injury a month ago, but is set for a recall to the team, which will be picked by Ancelotti even if he fails to return to England in time.
Wilkins said: "I'm hoping Carlo will be back. His father is not in the best condition. Our thoughts are with him. Carlo will select the side and he will select how we play. If he doesn't come back, then I will give the team talks."
January Blues: Chelsea's bad deals
*2005 – Jiri Jarosik, CSKA Moscow, £3m Tall midfielder played 14 games before moving on loan to Birmingham and then on to Celtic.
*2006 – Maniche, Dynamo Moscow, loan Portly ex-Porto man (right) signed when Essien got injured. Did not impress in eight games.
*2008 – Branislav Ivanovic, Lokomotiv Moscow, £9m Big fee but did not play for several months.
*2009 – Ricardo Quaresma, Internazionale, loan Just four games and a total waste of time.
...and one they got right
*2008 – Nicolas Anelka, Bolton, £15m The only unmitigated success, despite a slow start. The Premier League's top scorer last season.