Vieri deal collapses as Inter increase fee

Italian club's £25m demand ends Chelsea's interest in striker but Ranieri still intends to find top-class cover for every position
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The Independent Online

Claudio Ranieri has told Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, that he needs "a squad of 22 players - two for every place - if we want to try to fight for everything." In an unambiguous signal that spending will continue beyond the £61.5m already committed by the Russian, Ranieri added yesterday: "It is important to have great champions in every position."

One of those, he feels, is Juan Sebastian Veron, who was unveiled yesterday following a protracted £15m move from Manchester United and whom Ranieri described as "the best midfielder in the world".

Veron, slightly embarrassed by the accolade, perhaps mindful of his fitful form of the past two seasons, sat alongside Joe Cole, who signed for £6.6m from West Ham United. The hyperbole was not just confined to the Italian coach, with Veron hailing Cole as the "best in England".

One player, however, who could, more convincingly, be acknowledged as premier in his field, the striker Christian Vieri, will not be joining Chelsea after his club, Internazionale, surprisingly raised their asking price yesterday.

Chelsea had been loath to pay the £25m apparently demanded by the Italian club for the 30-year-old and had believed that a compromise of just over £20m was agreed in time for the striker to be eligible for the Champions' League qualifier next week in Slovakia. But Chelsea were told by Inter that the price had risen to nearer £27m and felt they were being railroaded into a deal.

A source close to Abramovich said last night: "Roman is not a fool and will not just be a soft touch for every club in deals. He loves Vieri - as does Claudio Ranieri - but there comes a point when you don't throw your money around if the fee is too rich."

Chelsea, however, have not given up hope and may well secure Vieri's signature before the end of the month. Yesterday, Ranieri refused to discuss the approach for the powerful striker, saying simply: "I think Christian Vieri will remain at Inter."

He was more effusive on the subject of Veron, although the Argentinian revealed he had been assured his future at Old Trafford was safe two months ago. "I am happy Sebastian is here," Ranieri said. "I don't think about Manchester United, I think about Chelsea. I think positive and I feel very happy because our midfield is stronger now. They [Veron and Cole] are both fantastic players and they can play together. I did not see Sebastian in all the matches [for United], but for me he is a top-class player and I am sure he will play better with us."

Veron, 28, for whom Sir Alex Ferguson paid Lazio £28.1m two years ago, will undoubtedly become the fulcrum of Ranieri's side. He admitted his form for the Premiership champions had been little more than "ordinary", adding: "I had good games, bad games and exceptional games [at United]. Italian football and English football are very different and perhaps that's what caused a change in my game but I hope I can do better."

Another player hoping to improve his game is Cole, 21, who said he accepted he may not be regarded as an automatic choice as he was at West Ham. "I have come here to learn my trade and play with some of the best players in the world. But I also want to play, no player wants to sit on the bench."

Cole said leaving West Ham had been the most difficult decision of his life. "It was very hard. It was very emotional for me. I'd been there since I was a baby really. I spoke to some of my friends who are West Ham fans and they said they felt the time was right."

Cole, who had one year left on his contract at Upton Park, said he would have left this summer regardless of whether or not West Ham had been relegated. He discussed the move with his friend John Terry, the Chelsea defender, and Glen Johnson, who has also joined the west London club.

Despite the understandable air of optimism, Ranieri also attempted to caution against the weight of expectation: "I think Alex Ferguson had seven years to win his first title and for me now it is important to build a team and secondly a group. I want to build a spirit for the group because you can have all the best players in the world but if you do not have a group you cannot win. This is my target and then I want to see if we can close the gap between us and Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool."

It is a tall order, especially for a man who is a self-confessed "tinkerer" with his line-ups and formations. "Rome wasn't built in a day," Ranieri stated. Try telling that to an impatient Roman.

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