Tiago close to joining Drogba at Chelsea

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The Independent Online

Didier Drogba was cleared for his £26m move to Chelsea yesterday as Marseille turned to one of the revelations of Euro 2004, the Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as his replacement.

Tiago, the Portuguese international is close to joining Didier Drogba in moving to Chelsea. Benfica are believed to be on the verge of agreeing a deal for the 23-year-old midfielder. Drogba was cleared for his £26m move to Stamford Bridge yesterday as Marseille turned to one of the revelations of Euro 2004, the Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as a replacement for the striker.

Drogba's move has been delayed only while Marseille sought a replacement. Now the French side have launched a £10m move for the extrovert Ajax forward who is a similar type of tall and skilful front man to Drogba.

Ibrahimovic may be prepared to move to France despite rival interest from Italy and is now Marseille's preferred choice after deals for Samuel Eto'o and Hernan Crespo faltered.

The Cameroon international Eto'o is negotiating with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona while Crespo yesterday finalised a year's loan deal with Milan. Crespo, who scored 12 goals in just 21 starts last season after his £16.8m move from Internazionale, was believed to have responded to family pressure to return to Italy.

Tiago was part of the Portugal international squad at Euro 2004. Benfica had originally priced him at £10m. But the club are believed to have since dropped their price and Chelsea's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, is confident that the deal will go through.

"A possible agreement could come over the next few hours or few days," Kenyon said. "[But] the two sides have still not reached an agreement on a fee that would allow us to say that Tiago will be a Chelsea player."

Tiago is under contract with Benfica until 2007 but is reportedly keen for a move to the Premiership because of differences with the club's new coach, Jose Veiga. He has scored 19 goals in 95 matches and been a regular first-team choice since joining Benfica halfway through the 2001-2 season.

The Premier League look set to investigate Chelsea's loan deal with Aston Villa for the young striker Carlton Cole. Charlton have claimed that it was written in the deal which took midfielder Scott Parker to Stamford Bridge for £10m in January that Cole would spend the coming season as well as last season at The Valley.

Kenyon, however, defended his club, saying: "We are confident that Chelsea has conducted itself properly in all aspects of the transaction."

Middlesbrough face a major financial difficulty in any attempt to sign the Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour. The former England international, now 31, is overdue a testimonial match at Highbury which could net him around £750,000 and it may well take place at the end of the coming season. That means Parlour looks sure to stay with the champions for at least one more season, even though Boro could offer a generous salary package.

* The Switzerland striker Alexander Frei has been banned for three international matches by Uefa after being found guilty of spitting at England's Steven Gerrard in their Euro 2004 group match.

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