Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, has given Hernan Crespo 10 days to decide if he wants to remain at Stamford Bridge.
The Portuguese coach was unimpressed by Crespo's late arrival for pre-season training and wants the Argentinian striker to be fully committed to the club before the Blues set off for their tour of America on 21 July.
Should Crespo decide to move on it is expected that Mourinho will attempt to sign the Marseille striker Didier Drogba. "I didn't understand why he [Crespo] was arriving late [for training]," Mourinho said yesterday. "He was making excuses. But everything is OK with him now. I want to go to US with my squad decided.
"The only doubt is Crespo stays or is leaving. If Crespo is leaving we will buy another striker. It's up to him. I don't want players who are not 100 per cent ready to stay. If he has one per cent of doubt I don't want him to stay."
But Mourinho suggested that Drogba would be a worthy replacement if Crespo asks for a transfer. "I see the qualities of power and speed in him," Mourinho said. "Also his control on the first touch and the way he fights for the team. He is a player who can achieve great success."
Mourinho has already signed Mateja Kezman, the Serbia and Montenegro striker, who was granted a work permit yesterday, and said he was looking forward to seeing him join an impressive attacking line-up at the Bridge. "I like Kezman because he is a team player," Mourinho said. "He has the motivation to come to the top league in the world and that, along with his scoring record, makes him a good player for me. [Eidur] Gudjohnsen is a great player, [Adrian] Mutu has top motivation as do [Damien] Duff and [Arjen] Robben, so we have a lot of good attacking players."
Another Chelsea striker, Carlton Cole, moved to Aston Villa yesterday on a season-long loan. But Mourinho was quick to point out that the 20-year-old remains part of his plans for the future. "I think it is good for him," he said. "I have worked with him for a week and was impressed. I have no doubt that one day he will be a Chelsea player."
Also on his way out of Stamford Bridge yesterday was the Denmark winger Jesper Gronkjaer, who has joined Birmingham City for £2.2m. The former Ajax player has signed a twoyear deal with a year option after turning down an approach from the Spanish club Sevilla.
"I have been really impressed by Steve Bruce and his new structure at Birmingham and I am really looking forward to being featured in his plans," Gronkjaer said.
The 26-year-old joined Chelsea from Ajax in December 2000 for £7.8m and went on to make 119 appearances, scoring 11 goals. He added: "It was a flattering situation to be so much in demand but also quite confusing."
The player's representatives, Jon Smith and Vincenzo Morabito, said: "This has been a unique and complicated transaction. Jesper was literally spoilt for choice, having seven of Europe's leading clubs wanting his services.
"We all feel that this is an excellent move for him particularly as Birmingham is building such a strong squad to challenge for the major titles."
Mourinho, meanwhile, said he felt frustrated by his preparations for the new season. On 21 July, the squad leave for America for three friendlies, fixtures arranged before he was hired and which do not fit in with his careful plans for the Premiership season which starts with a match against Manchester United on 15 August.
He was also, he said, at a disadvantage compared with Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, and Arsène Wenger of Arsenal in that they already knew their players. "It's complicated for me. I cannot just receive [half] the players and three days later have them play Celtic or AC Milan or Roma," the 41-year-old said. "The most important thing is the Championship and the Champions' League."
Some of Mourinho's irritation with the American fixtures arises from a growing realisation that his squad, while strong physically, still need to work on their tactical skills.
"A top team player must have a big tactical culture to adapt on the pitch to every situation, to have the capacity to analyse play and to play in different ways," Mourinho said. "This comes with work... We can start working in a different way... on a better level." he said.