Eriksson meets Abramovich but denies interest in Chelsea job

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Another day of rumours and speculation about comings and goings at Chelsea ended last night with Sven Goran Eriksson admitting that he had met Roman Abramovich, the club's new owner. Sources indicated that the England coach had turned down an offer to replace Claudio Ranieri as manager at Stamford Bridge.

Eriksson was forced to issue a statement denying that he was about to jump ship after it was revealed that he had met Abramovich and the Israeli agent, Pini Zahavi, who masterminded the Russian's takeover of Chelsea, at the oil billionaire's London property last week.

"Due to the intense media profile given to Mr Abramovich's involvement with Chelsea, I accept that this meeting may create unfortunate speculation," Eriksson said. "Therefore, I would like to once again categorically reaffirm my total commitment to my role as England head coach. I am thoroughly enjoying the current European Championship qualifying campaign and I am looking forward to leading England to success in the future."

He added: "Pini Zahavi and I have been good friends for 20 years, since I was coaching Benfica. As Pini spends a lot of time in London, we regularly meet socially. Additionally, I have known Roman Abramovich for several months and during that time have also enjoyed socialising with him when he is in London."

Whether Eriksson's statement will put paid to speculation about his and Ranieri's future is another matter. Abramovich has said little to suggest that he has confidence in Ranieri and Eriksson is probably one of only a handful of figures in the game who would have a high enough profile to meet Abramovich's ambitions.

Appointing Eriksson would also help Abramovich in his desire to recruit more English players. He is considering moves for two or three England internationals. One player who emerged as a target yesterday was Wayne Bridge, the Southampton and England defender.

Abramovich is finding it hard to agree fees or persuade players to join him, and Chelsea's strategy of immediately attempting to sign up a host of big names has proved difficult in the case of Alessandro Nesta, Edgar Davids and Thierry Henry. Chelsea's bid for Real Madrid's Geremi was also met with a demand for an exorbitant £11m fee, although a compromise is being worked on. Patrick Kluivert is cheaper to sign from Barcelona, but the Dutch striker's personal demands are astronomical. Bridge's demands would be less so, and Southampton would probably find themselves in no position to resist a substantial bid.

There could also be significant departures from Stamford Bridge. One report last night suggested that the club had offered to pay Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink £3.5m to leave Chelsea before the start of the new season, while an offer of a new contract to Eidur Gudjohnsen was said to have been withdrawn.

Harry Kewell, another Chelsea target, was in discussions with Leeds last night after a problem held up his £7m move to Liverpool. Kewell has a year left on his contract and was believed to be seeking a loyalty payment in respect of that.

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