Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle United chairman, surprised the rest of English football yesterday by going out of his way to thank Chelsea he said they had done him a "big favour" selling Damien Duff to the Tyneside club for a mere £5m.
Newcastle's offer was accepted even though Tottenham and Liverpool are believed to have outbid them by £2m in the race for Duff's services. The Republic of Ireland international denied he was anxious to quit London and so it would appear that local rivalry and, perhaps, Spurs' proximity to Chelsea in the Premiership table counted against Martin Jol on this occasion.
Unveiling Newcastle's first major purchase of the summer, a buoyant Shepherd confirmed Duff had cost £5m and said: "We owe them [Chelsea] a big favour." Reflecting on a particularly thrifty piece of business, the chairman said: "Thanks very much, Chelsea."
Duff echoed Shepherd's gratitude while explaining the sequence of events which brought about his cut-price transfer. "About three weeks ago I picked up the phone to [the Chelsea chief executive] Peter Kenyon and asked him to keep me informed if any clubs made an approach for me," Duff said. "He agreed to do that and here I am. I took a couple of days thinking about it and I spoke to some of the lads here and I just listened to my heart. It told me to come to Newcastle. There might be some Liverpool supporters in Ireland saying I should have signed for them, but I just listened to my heart.
"The Newcastle fans are special and gave me a great welcome when I arrived. It'll be better to play in the black and white than being an away player at St James' Park. The potential is massive. It's a special place to play and a massive club and I don't think people realise that at times."
Duff accepts his new club are some way off challenging Chelsea for the Premiership title this season but fully expects Newcastle to be back among the Champions' League élite within the next five years the period of time he is contracted to United.
"If it wasn't for me piping up then I would have been in pre-season with Chelsea and facing up to another season of success but another season of limited first-team opportunities," he said. "First and foremost I want to play football and during my first two-and-a-half years I did that.
"In the last few months I haven't played enough football but I took it on the chin. Jose Mourinho [the Chelsea manager] understood my situation and so he agreed to let me leave. But I don't have anything to prove to anyone down there. I loved my time at Chelsea and I was in bits when I said my goodbyes on Friday. It was very emotional."
On their way to securing back-to-back Premiership titles Chelsea have shown many fine qualities but benevolence is not one of them. With Roman Abramovich's billions made available to bankroll Mourinho's extravagant spending, it has often been said that the Stamford Bridge club is squeezing the life out of English football. Ruthlessness rather than generosity has been the name of the Blues' game.
Whatever the reasons behind Duff's relatively cheap transfer, Shepherd has managed to pull off a masterstroke in attracting to St James' a 27-year-old winger with proven Premiership pedigree for a fraction of his value 12 months ago.
Glenn Roeder, the Newcastle manager, hopes to make a habit out of such inspired signings this summer after publicly stating his desire not to buy overpriced foreign players.
"Damien has left behind three world-class wingers at Chelsea and that competition was one of the reasons he has decided to move on," Roeder said. "But make no mistake about it, he is every bit as good as all of the other three."
Expect Shepherd to return to Stamford Bridge in the near future to enquire about the availability of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Robert Huth. When asked whether he believed Kenyon and Mourinho's generosity might extend to a further signing this summer, the United chairman smiled: "You never know."
Money to burn: Chelsea's losses
Profit/loss: £15.8m loss
J S Veron
Profit/loss: £15m loss
Profit/loss: £12m loss
Profit/loss: £3.5m loss
Asier Del Horno
Profit/loss: £3.2m loss
Profit/loss: £2.45m loss
Profit/loss: £1.5m loss
Profit/loss: 0.3m profit
Only includes player bought since Abramovich took over.
*Mutu sacked; ** According to NewcastleReuse content