Chelsea turn to Drogba as Shevchenko rejects move

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Roman Abramovich will make a £17m move for the Marseille striker Didier Drogba after being rejected by Milan's Andrei Shevchenko.

Roman Abramovich will make a £17m move for the Marseille striker Didier Drogba after being rejected by Milan's Andrei Shevchenko.

The Chelsea owner's jet was ready for take-off to Italy to push through the move for the Ukrianian Shevchenko when news that he had agreed a four-year deal with Milan came through. Chelsea's Russian owner had been conducting that deal on his own in a bid to cut costs and get a straight answer, but it was not the reply he was looking for.

Now Abramovich will flex his financial muscles with a fresh effort for Drogba, the powerful targetman who is also wanted by Manchester United. Abramovich's negotiators have already met Marseille, seeking permission to broker a deal for the player who performed so admirably in the Uefa Cup this season.

Marseille refused initially, but the price - and the stakes - have increased with Chelsea's failure to find a new No 9. Abramovich may also take a personal hand in this bid, although his trusted aide, the agent Pini Zahavi, is also on the case and has met the French club twice in the past fortnight.

Drogba would move to the Premiership if the club is right, and he is interested in both Chelsea and United. Chelsea lead the race because United have yet to resolve the future of Ruud van Nistelrooy. Real Madrid are still negotiating for the Dutchman and are close to the £30m figure that would help the sale go through.

However, Abramovich has money to spend immediately and does not have to wait for a chain of events to happen before he can buy. Drogba's name has been run by the club's prospective coach Jose Mourinho, who likes his robust and skillful style.

Meanwhile, Chelsea's England midfielder Frank Lampard has warned Chelsea against making too many summer changes as he urged the club to resolve the future of Claudio Ranieri as soon as possible. Ranieri is still expected to be sacked by Chelsea, with Mourinho set to take over ahead of next season.

However, Chelsea were made to wait until after last night's Champions' League final between Porto and Monaco, whose coach Didier Deschamps is also admired at Stamford Bridge, before making any final decision. Only then will Mourinho confirm his plans, with Liverpool also understood to be interested in trying to lure him away from Chelsea.

Ranieri, meanwhile, has been left to wait in limbo, not knowing for certain whether he will dismissed by Chelsea and still unable to apply for jobs at other clubs, such as Tottenham.

The Italian was called back from Italy to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday but, instead of being sacked, he was asked to help with the club's summer transfer planning. That only served to add to the uncertainty which has dominated the club over recent months, with Lampard urging the club to put everyone out of their misery.

"I can't say enough about what Claudio has done for me, I'm much more of a developed player and character now," he said. "But the club is the be-all and end-all and the sad fact is that managers and players all move on in time.

"It's lingered over us all season and made it a little bit difficult though. A good thing would be to get it sorted either way now."

Lampard added: "We've done very well this year, without winning anything, but there is already a core of the team. There will be changes, we all anticipate that. But I don't think there should be wholesale changes because we have got to know each other this year.

"Hopefully, we can add to that core and come back even stronger than we were."

Chelsea invested more than £100m last summer, with Scott Parker signing in January, and Arjen Robben and Petr Cech due to arrive this summer. Several players will also leave but Lampard looks set to stay, despite leading clubs around Europe having been alerted to his initial failure to obtain a significant wage rise from Chelsea.

That new deal looks to be forthcoming, possibly by the end of this week, although the England midfielder had still not signed it when he met the media at the national team's training camp in Sardinia yesterday. "I want to stay at Chelsea, that's definite in my mind. Things have to be right and I hope they will be," he said. "The sooner the better as I'm going to Euro 2004 and I would love to have it tied up before I'm starting to play games."

* Middlesbrough have moved to quell speculation that Juninho may be on his way out of the Riverside Stadium. It has been suggested the 31-year-old Brazilian could be sold after the manager, Steve McClaren, and chairman, Steve Gibson, promised difficult decisions will be made in an attempt to take the club forward. Boro are reportedly interested in signing the Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert and the Leeds forward Mark Viduka but the club's chief executive, Keith Lamb, said: "Juninho is under contract at Middlesbrough and there he will remain. If someone offers us £30m for him, then obviously we will consider it."

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