Chelsea close on £20m Essien

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Chelsea will make decisive moves for Michael Essien and Shaun Wright-Phillips in the next 48 hours. At the same time the Premiership champions last night confirmed that Hernan Crespo will return to them for next season, after a year's loan at Milan, and indicated that they are unlikely to sell another striker, Carlton Cole despite interest from several clubs, including Portsmouth.

With the £8m left-back Asier Del Horno being unveiled to the media today, it appears, after the Steven Gerrard imbroglio, that Chelsea are on the verge of finalising their squad for the coming season. Essien, rather than Gerrard, will now partner Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele in the midfield with Wright-Phillips competing with Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and Joe Cole for the two wide attacking positions.

Despite their public declarations it appears that Lyon will accept a fee of around £20m for Essien, a 22-year-old Ghanaian. The club president, Jean-Michel Aulas, has rejected an initial offer of around £17m from Chelsea and declared that they would have to pay "more than £26m".

However, Aulas, who is on holiday but is now willing to negotiate, also knows that unless he sells now he is unlikely, in the future, to realise anywhere near the price Chelsea are about to offer for Essien who has always been regarded as the second choice to Gerrard.

Similarly, Chelsea believe that Manchester City will have to compromise on the £22m they are publicly demanding for Wright-Phillips. Indeed, it is understood that an £18m deal has already been agreed for the 23-year-old - although this has been vehemently denied by City.

He will be joined at Stamford Bridge by Crespo who has failed in his attempts to secure a permanent deal with Milan following the arrival of Christian Vieri. Crespo, who struggled to settle in London, has made clear he wants to stay in Italy, but Chelsea were unwilling for him to remain on loan and insisted on a transfer fee was paid for the striker who cost them £16.8m just two years ago. Milan refused to do so even though they had signed a mandate giving them first option on the player. That expired on 30 June and a meeting between the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, and Crespo's agent, Fernando Hidalgo, also proved fruitless.

Although Crespo endured a troubled time at Chelsea he is highly regarded by the manager, Jose Mourinho, who believes he can get the best out of the Argentinian international who will now compete with Didier Drogba for the role of central striker.

The Portsmouth chairman, Milan Mandaric, has claimed that he is attempting to sign Carlton Cole, who was on loan to Aston Villa from Chelsea last season, for £2m and is also keen for Chelsea's Alexei Smertin to return to Fratton Park. Neither deal is likely to happen and it is thought that Mourinho may give Cole the opportunity to impress him.