A remarkable dispute is brewing at Chelsea after Jose Mourinho gained revenge on the wayward defender William Gallas by taking away his lucky No 13 shirt and giving it to Michael Ballack instead.
Gallas, who incurred the wrath of Mourinho by failing to turn up for Chelsea's pre-season training camp here, had expected an £80,000 fine for his misdemeanour, which his agent still describes as a "misunderstanding ". But rather like a cheating husband who opens his wardrobe to find his suits and ties cut into pieces, Gallas had a shock when he sat down to watch television last night. What he saw was a beaming Michael Ballack holding up his new Chelsea shirt, with Gallas' own No 13 printed on the back.
The number is special to the Frenchman because he has worn it ever since arriving in London from Marseilles in May 2001.
Anyone tempted to think it was all a coincidence was quickly convinced otherwise by Ballack's own comments on the subject. "Initially, I wanted 13 and I was sad because it had already been taken," said the German midfielder, who wore No 13 for Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. "I had accepted No 19, but two days ago the coach came and said, 'OK, it's fine for you to have the 13 after all'."
That change of heart coincided with Gallas' failure to turn up in America and his agent, Pierre Frelot, is not impressed. He said: "It is not possible for them to give Ballack the No 13 shirt without talking to William first. William has been wearing that number for five years and it is the shirt he expects to be in. As far as we are concerned William's absence is still a misunderstanding. I am very surprised they haven't waited to hear the explanation of the player first before taking action against him."
It is unclear whether Gallas, who asked to leave the club in May when he heard Milan were interested in him, will play for Chelsea again. He is due to join his team-mates on Monday, in time for a pre-season friendly against Feyenoord the following day, and Chelsea still want him to sign a new four-year, £70,000-a-week deal but the shirt saga will make talks even tougher.
Ballack has spoken of the potential of his midfield partnership with Frank Lampard after three training sessions together, even though critics say their styles are similar. He said: "We haven't talked about our compatibility, we only met two days ago, but in every training session we're closer in terms of tactics."
Arjen Robben gave Mourinho a scare yesterday when he hobbled out of training with a twisted ankle. However, Mourinho said: "It doesn't look much."
Meanwhile, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is set to name Chelsea target Ashley Cole in his squad for next week's Champions' League third qualifying round with Dynamo Zagreb. The squad must be lodged with Uefa by tomorrow and Cole will be furious if he is forced to fly to Zagreb.
Arsenal are holding out for £25m and are prepared to wait until the transfer window closes on 31 August to conclude the deal.Reuse content