Mourinho wants to pair Ballack and Lampard at Bridge

Despite the on-field animosity between the two clubs, Barcelona covet several Chelsea players - including Lampard and Arjen Robben, having enquired previously about Damien Duff - while the Premiership champions' interest in the striker Samuel Eto'o is undimmed by their previous failures to sign him.

Chelsea have turned to Ballack, and have held talks with the German international, after Milan, once again, refused to sell their Brazilian playmaker Kaka to them in yet another sign that, despite Roman Abramovich's money, a number of leading players remain out of his reach.

Ballack is not one of them - partly because he is out of contract at Bayern Munich at the end of the season and partly because Chelsea are willing to meet his exorbitant wage demands and pay him £121,000 a week. Mourinho regards Ballack as a "€25m" (£17m) player who he is getting for free.

"I want him," Mourinho told the German newspaper Bild. "He has said he needs time. I respect that. Now it's up to him. For me Ballack is one of the best players in the world. He's very intelligent, tactically very strong and he scores a lot of goals. For me in Europe there's only Frank Lampard who plays at that level. The two would form a dream pair."

Mourinho's admiration for Lampard remains undimmed but if the 29-year-old Ballack - who had interested Manchester United, Real Madrid and Internazionale, and has been free to talk to clubs since January - arrives it would question the 27-year-old's supremacy at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard has three years left on his contract and is the highest-paid player at Chelsea, earning around £90,000 a week. He would undoubtedly expect an increase on that should Ballack be signed but there is also a continued mutual admiration between Lampard and Barcelona.

In addition the midfielder is keen to eventually test himself abroad, and has shown an interest in playing in Italy in the past although his first-choice, should be leave, would be Barcelona. His partner Elen Rives is from the city and her family are season ticket-holders at the Nou Camp.

The chances are that Lampard, who would cost at least £20m, will stay for the time being at least. He is highly unlikely to ever ask for a move but will be interested to see how Mourinho plans to organise his team with Ballack, a player he identified as a target, in it. Chelsea hope to announce that they have signed Ballack before the end of the season, especially as both clubs are now out of this season's Champions' League.

It is likely to be an active summer for Chelsea in the transfer market with a big-name striker, such as Eto'o, Andrei Shevchenko - Abramovich's favourite player - or Fernando Torres, who can leave Atletico Madrid, on the wanted list to try to ensure they win next season's European Cup.

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