Chelsea sign up Cole and Veron in £21.6m spree

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The Independent Football

Roman Abramovich's spending spree continued apace last night when Chelsea agreed a fee of £6.6m with West Ham for the England midfielder Joe Cole. The club also announced today that it had finalised a £15m deal for Juan Sebastian Veron.

Abramovich, still looking for midfield talent, took Manchester United out of the bidding for Cole with a £6.6m package. The 21-year-old, who has already been capped by England but may only be a fringe player at Chelsea, will sign today as the Champions' League deadline approaches.

Cole had been the subject of a £5m Chelsea offer two months ago, before Abramovich's takeover. That offer was clearly not as derisory as West Ham first claimed because the deal has been done at just a little more.

"It was a difficult decision, but I feel now is the time to make a break from West Ham," Cole said last night. "The club will always be an important part of my career and I still have great affection for the club and the fans. I would like to think I would be able to return there at some time in the future."

Cole said his decision to leave was not because of last season's relegation from the Premiership. "More than 18 months ago, I was asked by West Ham to sign an extension of my contract," he said. "The club had just finished seventh in the Premier League but I felt that to further my international career, I would need to move on to a club that was playing regularly in Europe. For all my belief in West Ham, I could not honestly see them competing at that level.

"I made this known to West Ham and said that I would see out my contract with them if they wanted me to, but I would understand if they would look to sell me," Cole added.

"It hurt like mad when we were relegated. Now I wish the club and all its great supporters the very best for the forthcoming season and the future. I hope they follow my career and appreciate the effort that I have given to West Ham."

The Veron deal will mean that Manchester United have made a substantial loss, having bought the Argentian for £28.1million in July 2001 from Lazio. His personal terms have been agreed at around £5m a year.

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, referred only obliquely to Veron in his press conference in Lisbon yesterday before tonight's friendly against Sporting Lisbon. "So many things have happened while we've been away on tour, and things have been quite muddied," he said. "We should know the real story soon."

The two deals will take Chelsea's summer spending spree since the arrival of Abramovich to almost £60, and he is still working on two more possibles.

Remarkably, Real Madrid's Frenchman Claude Makelele is a third midfield option. The strong-running and influential player would fit perfectly with Veron and Cole.

Makelele is now the clear first choice in that role for Chelsea as Patrick Vieira and Arsenal have failed to respond to their ultimatum. Real Madrid are holding out for around £14m, but Chelsea are willing to improve Makelele's wages in Spain, so the Frenchman is keen on the move.

Chelsea are also haggling over terms and a fee for the Internazionale striker and Italy international, Christian Vieri. Those negotiations have been going on for days, but with the European transfer deadline coming up on 1 September they will have to be resolved.

Another deal that was imminent last night was the signing of Kevin Phillips by Southampton. They had a £3m bid accepted by Sunderland and the 30-year-old, capped eight times by England, was due for talks. He started his career as a defender at Southampton but was released without playing a first-team game and drifted into amateur football.

The striker said he had gone "stale" at the Stadium of Light after scoring just six league goals last season as Sunderland finished bottom of the league. In the 1999-2000 season, Phillips scored 30 goals in 36 Premiership games for Sunderland.

Southampton also completed the £1.5m signing of the winger Neil McCann from Rangers. The 28-year-old Scotland international has agreed a four-year-deal.

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