Chelsea have informed the Premier League that they will not renew Joe Cole's contract, making him free to leave the club next month. The news comes just 24 hours after the midfielder played his way into Fabio Capello's plans for England's opening World Cup group game on Saturday.
The Independent learnt yesterday that contract talks with the player are now over and Roman Abramovich has sanctioned the departure of the player on 1 July. Chelsea have also decided that Michael Ballack, currently injured and out of the World Cup finals, will not have his deal renewed. The Brazilian utility man Juliano Belletti will also leave the club next month.
Chelsea have gone as far as lodging the status of Cole, Ballack and Belletti as free agents with the Football Association and the Premier League. Cole will be the most sought-after of the three with Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City all interested in signing the 28-year-old.
Crucial to the decision was Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti and he has the full backing of Abramovich. Increasingly, the player found himself marginalised in the title run-in under Ancelotti. Both parties also found themselves a long way apart in terms of Cole's salary level on any potential new contract.
Cole has impressed in England's warm-up games and has a good chance of starting the team's opening World Cup match against the US on Saturday. The Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp would appear to be in pole position to sign the player, although Spurs have never before paid upwards of £100,000 a week, the kind of salary that Cole would expect to command. Redknapp, who brought Cole through from the academy as West Ham manager, publicly stated on Monday that he would like to sign the player.
Cole was the only player to complete the full 90 minutes of Monday's warm-up game against Platinum Stars, in which he also scored.
But even though his international stock is on the rise, his club have decided to call time on his seven years at Stamford Bridge, clearly feeling he is surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. The decision has been in the air for months, but still it is remarkable that Chelsea are happy for Cole to leave for nothing. The board's decision not to make any new offer to Cole is likely to go down badly with the club's supporters as the midfielder was one of the most popular players with the Stamford Bridge crowd.
The decision has been made partly for financial reasons, as Chelsea did not want to be held to ransom. Cole wanted a £30,000-a-week pay rise on his existing contract of around £80,000 a week. Earlier in the season, Chelsea made Cole an offer which was rejected, and there has been no further offer made. Both sides have now accepted that Cole will be free to leave Chelsea and the World Cup will provide him with the perfect shop window in which to parade his talents.
Since returning to fitness in October after 10 months out with a ruptured cruciate ligament, Cole never had the full backing of manager Ancelotti. The talented midfielder started 22 games, but rarely played the full 90 minutes. Ancelotti tried him in a variety of positions, from the attacking point of a midfield diamond to a place out wide on the right wing, but Cole never looked convincing, despite moments of inspiration.
The season's highlight was undoubtedly the brilliant goal he scored at Old Trafford that set up a vital 2-1 victory over Manchester United, one of only two goals he scored all season. Ancelotti later admitted the victory was the most important of Chelsea's Double-winning season. But Cole was also frustratingly bad at times, notably in February when he was substituted at half-time after a dismal 45 minutes against Cardiff in an FA Cup fifth-round tie.
Cole made his last appearance for Chelsea in the 1-0 victory over Portsmouth in the FA Cup final that sealed the first league and FA Cup Double in the club's history. In all, he made 282 appearances and scored 39 goals for Chelsea after moving from West Ham United for £6.6m in the summer of 2003.
Ballack's last action for Chelsea was when he limped out of the FA Cup final with an ankle injury, a problem that has since ruled him out of the World Cup. The German midfielder, who will be 34 in September, wanted a two-year deal but Chelsea only offered one year, an offer that has since been withdrawn. Ballack became the highest paid player in the world on £130,000 a week when he signed on a free transfer from Bayern Munich in 2006. He played 167 games for Chelsea, scoring 26 goals. He is likely to return to Germany although he also has received offers from clubs in America and the United Arab Emirates.