Chelsea have had a £35m offer for the Milan defender Alessandro Nesta rejected. Despite the response, the approach, which would have involved a record fee paid by a British club, represents a remarkable statement of intent by new owner, Roman Abramovich.
The Russian billionaire, 36, is now considering an increased offer and whether to make inquiries about the Juventus midfielder Edgar Davids, thought to be available for around £12m, and, most audaciously, Arsenal's Thierry Henry. In addition, Chelsea last night lodged a £5.5m bid for the Leeds striker, Harry Kewell, and suddenly appear favourites to sign the Australian, who is keen to play in London.
Despite the Nesta bid, it is the presence of Henry's name on Chelsea's wish list which is most intriguing. Any serious approach for the striker would test both Arsenal's resolve and the resilience of their stretched finances. The arrival of big-name players would appease fans concerned over the takeover and disappointed at the departure of Gianfranco Zola.
Milan yesterday confirmed that they had rejected an offer from an unnamed English club for Nesta who was bought from Lazio last year for £20m. Although Manchester United are known to admire the player, the offer was made by Chelsea.
Milan's vice-president, Adriano Galliani, said it had been rejected because the "first move to make Milan stronger is to make all our champions non-transferable".
Chelsea have, meanwhile, secured the defender John Terry on a four-year contract and the 19-year-old striker Carlton Cole with a six-year deal.
There was also growing speculation yesterday that the Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, does not feature in Abramovich's plans following the sale, which also involves the oil magnate taking on the club's debts of £90m, which were threatening to force it into administration.
The new owner hardly gave Ranieri a ringing endorsement when he said: "We have no plans at the moment to change the management here - at the moment." Abramovich also offered an insight into his motivation for buying the club: "I don't look at this as a financial investment. I see it as a hobby. I'm looking at it as something to have fun with rather than having to realise a return." It will also, undoubtedly, act as a calling card into western business circles.
Off the field, the Government confirmed that there will be an "investigation" into the takeover of Chelsea Village plc, the Premiership club's parent company which facilitated the sale. The Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, said his department will examine whether Abramovich has sufficient bona fide business credentials to control a British business. "I've asked the fit and proper persons test to be done on this," Caborn said. This follows a complaint by one of his predecessors, the MP Tony Banks, who is also a Chelsea fan.
The full extent of the desire of Ken Bates, the Chelsea chairman, to sell the club is also becoming clearer. As reported in The Independent last month, Bates had attempted to secure a sale to a mysterious Venezuelan businessman who was supposedly being backed by two pensioners, one from Norwich and the other from Germany. They were prepared to pay £25m for a 29.9 per cent stake in the club.
Chelsea had been looking for new investors and faced a crisis as they had debt repayments of £23m to make on loans which needed to be repaid today. Analysts have suggested the club was facing financial ruin. For now, Abramovich appears to have come to the rescue.Reuse content