Chelsea target Ajax striker in January spree

£20m Uruguay international and top scorer in Dutch league is key figure as prospect of transfer ban looms
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The Independent Football

The Ajax striker Luis Suarez has become one of Chelsea's key targets in January when the club are preparing a spending spree that will see them through a potential transfer ban in the summer as punishment for the Gaël Kakuta affair.

Suarez, 22, a Uruguay international is rated at between £15m and £20m and is being talked about at the highest level by Chelsea. A number of English clubs have looked at him this season, including Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, but Chelsea are most prepared to take a risk on the player because they could be precluded from action in the summer.

The left-footed striker-winger, who has been the outstanding player in the Dutch Eredivisie this season, has been linked with a move away from Ajax in the summer. Chelsea, however, are discussing a strategy in which they make their major signings in January, with the Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero and Everton's midfielder Jack Rodwell also among those they are looking at signing in January.

Suarez would be available to play for Chelsea in the latter stages of the Champions League, even though he has represented Ajax in the Europa League this season. A Champions League club who sign a player in January can register him to play in the knockout stages of the competition even if he has already played in the other European competition that same season. But they can only do so with one new player in that situation.

Chelsea have been run under a much tighter budget in the past two years and the new chief executive, Ron Gourlay, is still under the same pressure from the ownership to steer them towards self-sufficiency. Accordingly, players have to be bought out of the usual budget from television and commercial revenue. However, the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, has not ruled out personally funding one-off signings to boost the squad.

Ajax played down suggestions yesterday that Suarez was a serious target for Chelsea. However, Chelsea have no option but to begin their planning for January now. They are still in the process of negotiating with the Court of Arbitration for Sport on the make-up of the three-man commission that will preside over their appeal against a Fifa two-window transfer ban. The earliest the appeal can be heard is mid- January.

Suarez is in his third season at Ajax, having joined from Groningen in 2007. He has one year left on the three-year deal he signed with Ajax when he joined them for around £6m.

Chelsea are expected to be without Michael Essien for at least three to four weeks after the midfielder tore his right hamstring against Apoel Nicosia on Tuesday night. The full extent of the damage will not be known until he undergoes further scans on the muscle and the club are not yet certain whether he will be anywhere near fit enough to play for Ghana in the African Nations Cup next month.

It would be unlikely that Chelsea would release Essien in early January to play in the tournament in Angola if he has not by then proved his fitness beyond doubt. His team-mate Joe Cole said: "We will miss Michael. But we've got Deco, Michael Ballack and [Juliano] Belletti – it's a good squad and that's what it is there for, to provide cover when guys get injured."

The midfielder John Obi Mikel admitted that the Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, lost his temper with his players after their 2-2 draw with the Cypriot team. Mikel was at fault for the equaliser that the visitors scored with four minutes remaining.

Mikel said: "The manager was really, really mad with the way we played in the second half. We had lost the last two games and playing at home as well, we should have won this game.

"I was going to play the ball back to John Terry but the striker anticipated it and when he had the ball, I couldn't get to him. It was a very big mistake from me, but the mistake is done now. I take responsibility for it, but I think overall we didn't play well enough in the second half. It is good that we are now playing two games at home."

Does talent always travel?

Luis Suarez has hit 23 goals this term, but success in the Dutch league doesn't always translate.

PSV's Mateja Kezman scored 129 goals in four years, but flopped at Chelsea. Afonso Alves hit 45 in 39 for Heerenveen but hit just four for Middlesbrough. AZ's Mounir El Hamdaoui failed to impress on trial at Spurs, but top scored in the Dutch league last season.

Group D

Results: Chelsea 1 Porto 0, Atletico Madrid 0 Apoel Nicosia 0; Porto 2 Atletico Madrid 0, Apoel Nicosia 0 Chelsea 1; Porto 2 Apoel Nicosia 1, Chelsea 4 Atletico Madrid 0; Apoel Nicosia 0 Porto 1, Atletico Madrid 2 Chelsea 2; Apoel Nicosia 1 Atletico Madrid 1, Porto 0 Chelsea 1; Atletico Madrid 0 Porto 3, Chelsea 2 Apoel Nicosia 2.

Chelsea's possible round of 16 opponents: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Milan, Fiorentina/Lyons, Barcelona/ Internazionale/Rubin Kazan/Dynamo Kiev, Seville/Unirea Urziceni/Stuttgart, Olympiakos/Standard Liège.