Mourinho treating Lyon 'like fools'

It remained a mystery as to which player the French champions were lining up, although their president, Jean-Michel Aulas, hinted that they would seek a direct replacement for the Ghanaian midfielder.

Aulas also accused the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, of "unceasingly" telephoning Essien, suggesting he would be better off calling him and directly negotiating with Lyon. "They shouldn't take French clubs for fools," Aulas said. "Michael is worth between £31m and £35m and, because time has been wasted, I estimate our player will leave for £31m, while bringing in one Chelsea player.

"Rather than unceasingly calling the player to make it all the more sad, Mourinho would do better to call me directly. Chelsea will learn to know me."

Aulas revealed how he had told the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, that the fee for Essien would be the same as the Blues were prepared to pay for the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, earlier this summer. "Michael is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world," Aulas added, "superior or at least equal to Gerrard".

Earlier yesterday, Mourinho voiced his impatience at the ongoing difficulties in signing Essien. Chelsea hoped to lure Essien to Stamford Bridge in a £25m deal, but Aulas is remaining steadfast in his valuation. "I hope we are sure about that soon - he comes or he doesn't come," Mourinho said. "He comes, great. If he doesn't come, it's not a drama. But I need to know."

The midfield has been the biggest area of change since last season's Premiership triumph, with Scott Parker and Alexei Smertin leaving the club, and Mourinho is keen to strengthen there.

So far, the Blues have signed Asier del Horno from Athletic Bilbao and Le Havre's Lassana Diarra, with the strikers Hernan Crespo and Carlton Cole returning from loan spells.