Chelsea target Vieira as Duff transfer loses momentum

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The Independent Football

Chelsea have withdrawn offers to buy Christian Vieri and Edgar Davids and given Arsenal a deadline of 7 August to agree to the sale of Patrick Vieira for just £20m.

At the same time Blackburn Rovers yesterday rejected a fourth bid for Damien Duff, with Chelsea still falling short of the £17m needed to trigger talks. Concern is also growing at Stamford Bridge that the Republic of Ireland winger has no desire to leave the north-west and privately hopes to join either Manchester United and Liverpool. There was, however, positive news for the west London club with the 18-year-old Glen Johnson completing his £6m move from West Ham United to become the first signing under the new owner, Roman Abramovich.

Offers - and, admittedly, speculative approaches - have now been lodged by Chelsea for a host of top-name players. But, intriguingly, none have yet been secured, leading to doubts as to the persuasiveness of the new regime and a realisation that the transfer budget available is more conservative than estimated. "Abramovich is no fool and although it suits to be linked with a host of big deals he will expect to only land one or two," one source said.

Chief among those is Vieira, with the Russian taking note of the Arsenal captain's apparent restlessness and annoyance over a perceived lack of ambition at Highbury. Chelsea are keen to do a deal ahead of the deadline to register for the Champions' League and have made it clear they will meet Vieira's demanding personal terms. The French midfielder, whose existing contract runs out next year, has effectively told the Arsenal board that he wants his future resolved by next month.

Abramovich has also made plain his admiration for Thierry Henry but knows that the striker will cost a lot more and is settled. If Arsenal sell Vieira, however, they will unbalance the squad at a time when discontent is growing over the cost of the new stadium at Ashburton Grove and the effect it is having on Arsène Wenger's team-building.

Interestingly, Chelsea have decided against pursuing either the 30-year-old Davids, quoted at £11m by his club, Juventus, but with just one year left on his contract, or Vieri, also 30, who would have cost £30m from Internazionale - twice the fee Abramovich wanted to pay.

The attempt to buy Duff is also losing momentum with Chelsea still falling short of Blackburn's demands. Abramovich will pay a fee of £17m but only once add-on clauses are included. Blackburn say these are separate and will, in fact, push the required fee to £20m.

The Rovers chief executive, John Williams, admitted Chelsea's latest offer had been discussed by the board and "major shareholders". "There is a lot of financial upside to selling which cannot be underestimated in the post-Jack Walker era, but we don't want to sell Duff," he claimed. Blackburn are, however, concerned that the player has not made a public statement saying he wants to stay - while Chelsea were picking up signs that Duff, a reserved Dubliner who in rare interviews has professed a love for his Ribble Valley home, is less than keen to join them.

The future of another Chelsea target, Juan Sebastian Veron, also appeared unclear despite his manager at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, saying that interest had been expressed in the Argentinian. The Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, claimed: "We've not spoken to him [Veron]. I don't know what people are on about." However, that may reveal as much about Ranieri's involvement in any current negotiations as Veron's.

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