Mourinho wins transfer truce after show of player power

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The Independent Online

Arjen Robben added his voice to John Terry's in defence of Jose Mourinho as the Chelsea players gathered in support of their manager over the weekend. But the Portuguese coach's battle with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy over transfers could be solved this week as some figures at the club attempt to reach a compromise to the embargo on new signings.

Mourinho is expected to be told that he will be allowed to sign a defender this week to alleviate the crisis created by Terry's prolonged absence through injury. He has not given up on Micah Richards, although the fees being suggested in private by Manchester City are still considered too high and he has the cheaper option of Bolton's Tal Ben Haim, who is out of contract in the summer.

Whether the peace deal can be brokered this week will rely on chief executive Peter Kenyon's diplomacy in negotiating between the advisers of the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, who have refused to sanction any deals so far this month, and the prickly Mourinho. As with all Chelsea signings, the deal is likely to go right to the wire and, with just 17 days left to do it, Kenyon will have to act swiftly.

The Chelsea chief executive returned from his visit to China last week to a club once again on the brink of civil war, with Mourinho under pressure to replace his assistant, Steve Clarke. While Mourinho spoke publicly on Saturday for the first time since his outburst about transfer restrictions following the League Cup semi-final draw at Wycombe last Wednesday, he was keen to strike a more conciliatory note.

In the mean time, Chelsea's players have rallied around their captain. Terry said he would be prepared to speak to Abramovich on Mourinho's behalf and after Saturday's match, Robben, the star performer in the 4-0 win over Wigan, said that the Chelsea manager had his players' full support.

"We have a great manager and he is a great professional so we just get on with it," Robben said. "As a group we can only say that we love having him here at Chelsea and I think he can handle all the speculation. The relationship between the group and the manager is fantastic and we will keep it there.

"Of course we want him here. It is not just about the manager if you draw three games and have a difficult period. Everybody, not only Chelsea, talks about managers going and staying and that is normal in football."

The next few days will be critical to Mourinho's relations with those within the club who have been testing his patience behind the scenes. While he has also expressed a desire to sign another striker, there is no guarantee that he will get any more than another central defender as cover for Terry and Khalid Boulahrouz, who could yet be out for another month.

Ben Haim has been his first choice, an experienced Israel international who has turned down Bolton's offer of a new contract and will be available, with six months left on his deal, for what Chelsea hope is a reasonable fee. Richards, 18, could cost as much as £18m, which would need consensus from all the various factions at Chelsea to be pushed through before end of the month.

Mourinho will have the goalkeeper Petr Cech back in training today for the first time since his depressed fracture of the skull against Reading on 14 October, which the Chelsea manager described as the equivalent of getting "a £50m player who we don't have to pay a penny for".

The next step for Cech will be proving he is mentally as well as physically ready to play against Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.

Mourinho refused to be definite about his own future in the aftermath of Saturday's match, although he said pointedly that "the people around me are together". As for the rest of them he said: "You will have to ask them individually". He could not make any assurances that he would see his contract out until 2010.

"That's football," he said. "I'm still young for a manager but very, very old in football terms. I will be 44 next week [26 January], I have been in football 44 years. Ever since I was born I have lived in football. I have seen so many things in football since I was a kid. You cannot be 100 per cent categorical about some issues. That's not important. When I say the club is more important, the future of the club is more important.

"My future is not important in the current context. Everyone in this club should think about the club, not themselves. I say to the players, it's not important who is on the bench, who plays 90 minutes and who plays two minutes. The important thing is that everyone gives their maximum for the club."

Yesterday, Terry was quoted as saying: "We don't want Jose to go and if it takes five or six of the senior players to tell them so, then that's what we're prepared to do."

The Chelsea captain is still hopeful of returning for the match against Liverpool after surgery on his back which, the club initially claimed, would allow him to return to playing within 10 days.

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