A trail of burnt bridges leads to Stamford Bridge for Michael Ballack today as the Germany captain joins Chelsea from Bayern Munich on a Bosman free transfer in a four-year deal worth about £110,000 a week.
Ballack will be unveiled at a press conference as the first of three projected major summer signings by the Premiership champions. A classic No 10 who insists on the No 13 shirt for club and country, he was booed out of Bavaria after spurning all Bayern's offers to re-sign and being portrayed as being motivated principally by money.
Ballack, the 6ft 2in midfielder dubbed "The Little Kaiser" because of a style similar to Franz Beckenbauer's, may be followed to Chelsea by another world-class 29-year-old, Milan's £37.5m-rated Ukraine striker Andrei Shevchenko, in possible part exchange for Hernan Crespo.
Chelsea confirmed yesterday that they want Shevchenko. Jose Mourinho, the manager, said Chelsea wanted "to go after players of big quality, Shevchenko and another one", while the chief executive, Peter Kenyon, added: "Shevchenko is the type of player we'd like."
Ballack's arrival, in a transfer negotiated by his agent, Dr Michael Becker, with Kenyon, will not be allowed to break Chelsea's pay structure. Key performers John Terry and Frank Lampard have been assured he will not be earning more than them. He will, nevertheless, receive a substantial signing-on fee, spread over the duration of his contract. Real Madrid were favourites to sign him until he was reputedly put off by managerial upheaval at the Bernabeu, with Manchester United also having had a long-term interest.
For Roman Abramovich's money, Mourinho acquires the complete midfielder. Ballack is a forceful tackler who can play in the holding role, break into advanced positions like Steven Gerrard, or operate as an orthodox playmaker. He is equally adept with either foot and strong in the air, and his tally of 126 goals in 375 games includes 29 in 60 for Germany.
During his four years in Munich, Ballack won three Bundesliga titles and as many German Cups, though his final season has been soured by the reaction to his desire to leave. Two former players proved equally unable to hide their feelings. Uli Hoeness, the chief executive, reacted to suggestions that Ballack wanted to experience a new language and culture by saying he was "more interested in a new currency". Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the president, questioned his character in big games.
Hoeness admitted there was one club in the world Bayern could not fight - "and that's Chelsea". Mourinho was sufficiently confident of getting his man that he went public about his enthusiasm for a player who is "intelligent, tactically strong and scores goals".
Before anyone could say he already possessed such an individual, and wondered whether Ballack was a replacement for him, the Chelsea manager added: "For me, there's only Frank Lampard who plays at that level. The two would form a dream pair."
To the bittersweet end at Bayern - the champions' 3-3 draw with Borussia Dortmund on Saturday - Ballack was jeered. The booing began when he was presented with flowers beforehand, along with two other departing players, Bixente Lizarazu and Jens Jeremies. It continued during the game, prompting Hoeness to ask for it to stop.
Even a trademark Ballack goal, from 20 yards, could not quell the dissent. In a parting shot of a more pointed kind, he said that remarks by the management had "whipped things up", adding: "It does hurt, but it shows I was an important player. Now I want a new challenge."
Shevchenko, meanwhile, confirmed on Friday that he is thinking of leaving Milan for "family reasons". Mourinho said yesterday: "The natural thing is that you have a big striker to join us and to make this group stronger. [But] they [Milan] can say the same thing we are saying in relation to [William] Gallas - no offers and no way of leaving because this is the power the clubs can have when they have a contract with the players."