Christian Vieri is due to be unveiled today as a Chelsea player in the most arresting deal so far of the Roman Abramovich revolution. Internazionale have accepted a fee of just over £20m for the 30-year-old striker and it is thought that Vieri, after an initial reluctance, has agreed to the move. He will earn a salary in excess of £5m a year.
The signing of the imposing Italian - on the deadline day for next week's Champions' League tie against the Slovakian side MK Zilina - brings spending this summer at Chelsea to £79m, of which an astonishing £42.1m has been splashed out in the past 48 hours.
Yesterday afternoon, Juan Sebastian Veron arrived in London for talks and is expected to sign a four-year deal today in a £15m transfer from Manchester United. West Ham United's Joe Cole was at Stamford Bridge earlier, finalising a £6.6m move, while the Leeds United goalkeeper Nigel Martyn is also due to sign for £500,000.
Abramovich has secured 10 new players, but it will be the signing of Vieri which will cause the greatest impact on world football. Until today, all of Chelsea's major signings have come from within the Premiership and concern was growing that, despite financial advantages, the club lacked the cachet to attract the very top players. Vieri, it is hoped, will change that. A move for Real Madrid's Claude Makelele is still possible. At the same time, Chelsea would not be unhappy to see both Emmanuel Petit and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink leave.
The Vieri deal also means that Chelsea have managed to negotiate a reduction of £10m on the fee quoted by Inter for a player who had been initially described as "intransferable". But when Vieri withdrew from the Amsterdam tournament last weekend it appeared that a deal was back on - if the player could be persuaded while Inter tried to hold out for £25m.
Chelsea's strategy has been to buy young players - who would retain a sell-on value - but with Vieri they realise he may provide the impetus for a tilt at both the Premiership and the Champions' League. "They were desperate to get Vieri but did not want to pay over the odds because of his age," one source said. "But Chelsea also understand that they are still not regarded as a big club and getting him may help attract other big names."
Vieri, with his power and ability to lead the line, certainly has the pedigree. Even though he is much travelled, playing for no fewer than nine clubs in Italy and Spain, the Australian-raised forward has always boasted an impressive scoring record. The move will also reunite him with Claudio Ranieri, who was his coach at Atletico Madrid, where he scored 24 goals in one season. Vieri also led Juventus to the Italian title in 1997 and last season scored 30 goals.
Vieri, of course, worked in Italy with the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson - perenially linked with the Chelsea job - as did Veron who, it is thought, will now become the fulcrum of Ranieri's side. The signing of Cole is more intriguing as he will not be regarded as an automatic choice and will "fill in" across the midfield depending on the formation. It shows Chelsea's desire to build a strong squad. Eriksson's assistant with the England team, Tord Grip, said: "It will be a test for Joe just to get into the Chelsea team."
West Ham supporters are unforgiving and have turned their anger on the board over the sale. However, one of the club's directors, Trevor Brooking, last night asserted that Cole, Glen Johnson, Trevor Sinclair and Frédéric Kanouté had to be sold otherwise the club would have "gone bust". The former West Ham manager Harry Redknapp - now in charge at Portsmouth, who were promoted to the Premiership as West Ham were relegated last season - said the sale of Cole was "a disgrace".
The departure of Veron from Old Trafford is also not without some rancour as it amounts to an admission of failure by the club's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who had spent £28.1m on the richly talented 28-year-old Argentinian but failed to assimilate him into his team. Ferguson had also intimated that he did not want Veron to go - particularly as he had played so impressively on the pre-season tour to the United States.
Veron's agent, Fernando Hidalgo, alluded to the initial doubts when he said: "When decisions are made, everyone has to follow the consequences. Seba [Veron] is proud to join Chelsea - but it was not his intention to leave the club [United]." Hidalgo added: "He is happy. It has been a club [United's] decision, and he has accepted it. He is ready to do the best he can with this new opportunity at Chelsea."
Amid all the spending, there was a sobering lesson yesterday with the release of Chelsea's squad numbers for the new season - there was no shirt for the former Dutch international Winston Bogarde, who has made just 12 appearances - eight as substitute - in three years. Still, he can continue collecting his £42,000 a week in wages from the comfort of the stand.
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