Chelsea left hanging by in-demand and out-of-contract Didier Drogba
Suitors hover as contract impasse sees striker put off talks until end of season
Didier Drogba has told Chelsea he does not want further talks on his future until the end of the season, leaving it ever more likely that the 34-year-old striker, who has been such a key figure in the club's two semi-final wins over the last six days, will leave for nothing in the summer.
Drogba has rejected a one-year deal and there have been no further talks to resolve the situation, prompting the player and his representatives to decide that they will wait until the end of the season to make a decision. By then Drogba is expected to have fleshed out a number of offers from across Europe, Major League Soccer in America and in China.
The striker, who has been at Chelsea for eight years, is convinced he can play on at a high level into his late 30s because his professional career began relatively late. It is only 10 years since he first played in the top flight in France, having signed for Guingamp.
So far the club have refused to offer Drogba, the match-winner against Barcelona on Wednesday, anything more than a one-year deal. Ideally, Drogba would like another two years at Chelsea and then make a lucrative free-agent move away from the Premier League.
As it stands, he will be a target for the likes of Tottenham and potentially Liverpool should he stay in the Premier League. He has decided that he will assess his options after the season finishes, possibly with a Champions League final, and before his contract runs out at the end of June.
Under Andre Villas-Boas the plan was that Drogba would leave in the summer and while that is still the most likely outcome, the player's performances of late have shown how hard he will be to replace. His goals against Spurs at Wembley last Sunday and Barcelona took him to 155 in 336 appearances, fourth on the all-time list of Chelsea goalscorers.
Drogba's display against Barcelona drew criticism for the amount of time he spent on the ground and complaining to the referee about challenges. He said after the game that one kick to his groin from Carles Puyol had given him cause for concern. "I think my wife would have been worried about that one," Drogba said.
Isolated in attack and charged with holding the ball up on his own, Drogba said that it had been a difficult, although rewarding, evening. "Every time I got the ball I looked up and the goal seemed really far away, like on the M25," he said. "It's quite difficult to play against them. They are a really good team."
Others were less charitable towards Drogba's tendency to make the most of any challenge from a defender. Wayne Rooney tweeted during the game: "Drogba. Your [sic] a good player but pls get up".
Andres Iniesta said that Chelsea's approach to the game had "taken advantage of their strong points". He said: "We created some chances but we weren't able to get the goals. That is the only thing that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. We generated enough chances to have won the game. But we can't feel sorry for ourselves."
Chelsea have also been told that the Brazilian playmaker Willian, who they came close to signing from Shakhtar Donetsk for £16m in January, would be available this summer for around £20m. The 23-year-old played in the Brazil Under-20 team with Ramires and David Luiz but the major stumbling block is his current ineligibility for a UK work permit.
Mircea Lucescu, the Shakhtar manager, said yesterday. "They have to pay the price because we bring the players here at 17 or 18 years old. We pay a lot of money because they are talented players and we bring them up. I have 23 or 24 [players like that], not only Willian.
"Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira, Dentinho, Alan Patrick – they are very young and they are already prepared to win the championship with a good mentality. They have played a lot of matches in Europe and they have a very, very good value.
"If Chelsea pay his [asking price], I am not against letting my players play for the big clubs. If they pay the price, he can go. If not, he will remain here because he has another two and a half years [on his] contract."
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