Chelsea line up Napoli's Cavani to be new Drogba
Exclusive: Villas-Boas monitors Uruguayan closely as club prepare to offer £35m in summer
Napoli's prolific Uruguay international striker Edinson Cavani has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Didier Drogba at Chelsea next summer as the club's manager, Andre Villas-Boas, draws up plans to continue his radical overhaul of his squad.
The Portuguese has dispatched Chelsea's newly appointed European scout, Mick Doherty, to monitor the 24-year-old striker on a number of occasions this season and is believed to consider Cavani an ideal candidate to succeed the Ivorian if, as expected, he leaves the club at the end of this season.
Chelsea would have contemplated offers for the 33-year-old, suspended for this lunchtime's crucial Premier League derby with Arsenal, both last summer and the previous year had any suitable bids arrived. With the player's contract due to expire at the end of this campaign, they are not thought to be prepared to offer him anything more than a single season's extension.
Villas-Boas is keen to reduce drastically the age of his squad, a task started last summer with the arrivals of Juan Mata, Thibault Courtois and Oriol Romeu. Cavani, nine years Drogba's junior, would fit that pattern.
The Uruguayan – a native of Salto, the same border town which produced Luis Suarez – also offers the flexibility Villas-Boas demands from his forwards, prospering both as a focal point for Napoli and while playing wide for his national team.
Both positions have reaped rewards: 26 goals last season, his first at San Paolo, made Cavani the most prolific striker in Napoli's history, while Uruguay claimed a World Cup semi-final berth last year and last summer produced a shock victory in the Copa America.
Napoli successfully resisted the overtures of Manchester City for their most valuable asset last summer, with the club's extrovert president, Aurelio de Laurentiis, expressing his determination to allow coach Walter Mazzarri the strongest possible side for the team's first-ever assault on the Champions League.
Though Cavani has continued his impressive vein of form this season – scoring against City at the Etihad Stadium last month before producing a stunning hat-trick to blow Milan away in Naples – and Napoli have started the Serie A campaign sufficiently well to be considered potential title challengers, the club would be vulnerable to a substantial bid this summer if the city's first Scudetto since 1990 proves elusive.
De Laurentiis is desperate to build a squad of sufficient strength to make Napoli regular Champions League candidates and sources close to the Italian side have admitted that a bid of around £35m would be too good to turn down. Chelsea could expect City to rival their interest.
Rather more pressing for Villas-Boas, ahead of the visit of Arsène Wenger's team, is the fate of John Terry, accused of using a racial slur towards QPR's Anton Ferdinand last Sunday, but he is a man the Portuguese insists the entire country should take great pride in.
"I think he is a good role model," said Villas-Boas, who earlier this week described Terry as a fine "representative" of the nation. "He is England captain. He is the captain of your team, your country. You should be proud. I am proud of [Cristiano] Ronaldo. He is the captain of my team, Portugal. He takes us to a higher level."
The Chelsea manager – who has written to the Football Association to explain his comments about referee Chris Foy after that game – removed Terry, the subject of his own FA investigation, from his squad for the Carling Cup victory at Everton but insisted that it was a precaution to protect his captain from suspension, rather than a reflection of his state of mind.
"I see no reason why he is not in the right frame of mind to play [against Arsenal]," Villas-Boas said.
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