Ranieri tells Abramovich to keep on buying 'the best'

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The Independent Football

The Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, who has quickly become acclimatised to his new world of extreme riches, yesterday urged his club's new owner, Roman Abramovich, to prolong his spending spree, saying: "It is important that we continue to pick up the best players."

The Italian added his fourth big-money recruit since the Russian billionaire's takeover with Tuesday's transfer of the £17m Blackburn winger Damien Duff, who joins the signings of Wayne Bridge, Geremi and Glen Johnson. But he stressed that the team-rebuilding programme at Stamford Bridge should not end now if Abramovich is to turn Chelsea into genuine title contenders.

"It is important that the team continues to grow. And it is important that we continue to pick up the best players," Ranieri said on his team's arrival in Malaysia for the FA Premier League Asia Cup. "While the team we had was good, we needed something more and the four new boys will surely add to the team.

"We need players with good motivation so that we can continue to blend the team into one that can challenge Manchester United and Arsenal seriously at the top of the Premier League. But with the squad I have now, we will be very, very close to the bigger teams."

Significantly, Ranieri indicated that the players which Abramovich is pursuing are on a list he has provided - and not, as various reports had suggested, by the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, in preparation for the Swede replacing him at the club.

"When I made the list I just put the names down," he said. "I am not the manager, I am a coach. For me signing the right players is more important than the cost. I think if my players want to win something there must be good competition for places. There are a lot of competitions in England and we are playing every three days. The players have to be ready to play whenever they are asked. All the major teams have 23 or 24 'big champions'."

Chelsea open their Asia Cup campaign against the Malaysian national side on Friday and Ranieri is determined not to underestimate the strength of the opposition. He said: "The humidity is high here, which is why I'm resting the players after the long flight. But we have to win, we want to win and we will try very hard to win against Malaysia, who I know will be trying very hard to stop us."

That match could see Duff and Bridge make their Chelsea debuts, with the pair due to fly to Kuala Lumpur today.

The Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, was due to attend a gala dinner in Kuala Lumpur yesterday night, wondering whether or not Abramovich wants a word with him. Newcastle put a £25m price on the England midfielder Kieron Dyer on Monday amid speculation that the Londoners and Manchester United are ready to test their resolve and try to lure the 24-year-old away from St James' Park.

The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has since indicated that he does not want to buy Dyer, leaving the way open for the Russian to make another move in a spending spree which has already reached £37m.

Newcastle's valuation of a player who cost them £6m in July 1999 is an indication of their intention to hold on to him. Yet if there is to be any approach for Dyer, Chelsea have the ideal opportunity over the next few days since the Magpies are also in Malaysia for the Asia Cup, which starts tomorrow.