Chelsea began their foray into the transfer market yesterday by agreeing a £6m fee for the young West Ham defender Glen Johnson and closing in on the £8.5m signing of the Camer-oon international Geremi from Real Madrid.
Chelsea's new owner, the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, further indulged in his new plaything by entering negotiations to sign the Blackburn winger Damien Duff in a deal which will cost the club a further £17m.
Chelsea are still contemplating a move for the Barc-elona striker Patrick Kluivert, but an even more audacious £22m bid for the Internazionale forward Christian Vieiri was rejected last night.
At the same time as details of the fee for the 18-year-old Johnson were being announced yesterday morning, Abramovich's aides were making a formal approach to Blackburn about Duff.
Rovers want to keep the Republic of Ireland international, but he has a clause in his contract which allows him to speak to clubs who bid £17m for him, a figure which Chelsea are prepared to meet.
Signing Duff would be a major coup as most of the other big clubs have tried and failed to take him from Ewood Park, with Liverpool and Manchester United having doubts about the valuation. But Abramovich has the cash and, after missing out on Harry Kewell, he also needs a left-sided attacker with Duff's undoubted flair.
Blackburn are now preparing themselves for an official offer. The move is unwelcome and would disrupt the plans of Graeme Souness, but if Chel-sea pay quickly, allowing Rovers to spend the proceeds on their team, it might not be the end of their world.
The quietly spoken Duff is settled at Blackburn but the chance of moving to a more glamorous club - and the prospect of Champions' League football - may convince him. As Chelsea are far ahead of the rest in terms of finances, it would also be the only chance of such a move in the near future.
The club will complete the signing of Geremi from Real in the next 48 hours. The player's representatives and officials from Real were in talks with Chelsea yesterday to agree a fee for the powerful midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Middlesbrough. Geremi, who is resting after Cameroon's Confederations Cup campaign, should arrive in London for a medical on Monday.
Chelsea also moved to divert speculation over the future of their manager, Claudio Ranieri, after Vicente del Bosque, the recently deposed Real Madrid coach, became the latest name to be linked with the job. Del Bosque was reported as saying he had received an informal approach, "a phone call and some interest". "But it is a delicate issue because Chelsea already have a manager and I don't want to discuss anything while that situation exists," he reportedly added. "It would hurt Ranieri and I wouldn't like it to happen to me."
Johnson's signing could turn out to be a shrewd deal for both Chelsea and West Ham. The £6m fee for an 18-year-old with just 14 first-team appearances to his name represents good business for West Ham, and there is the possibility of the defender going back to his old club on loan to retain match fitness if Ranieri does not need him.
West Ham's need to sell was acute after their relegation to the First Division, and the deal will help them to retain players such as Joe Cole, Frédéric Kanouté and Jermain Defoe. But their winger Trevor Sinclair will join Middlesbrough as soon as the clubs agree a compromise between their respective valuations of between £2m and £3m. His representative yesterday confirmed that no official bid had yet been lodged.
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