Chelsea finally made their move for Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo yesterday which means that Carlo Ancelotti has won his first major battle as manager. The deal is expected to include striker Claudio Pizarro moving in the opposite direction with a cash addition of around £6m.
Pirlo was one of Ancelotti's most trusted players at Milan and Roman Abramovich has backed his new manager despite great reservations at the club about the age of the midfielder who will be joining a squad that is already top heavy with players in that central position.
The 21-year-old defender Michael Mancienne will not be moving in the opposite direction on a loan. The club feel that he will have little chance of playing at Milan and there is no point him going to Italy to spend time on the bench. It will be accommodating Pirlo within his new-look diamond formation in the midfield that will be Ancelotti's biggest challenge.
There was initially great scepticism in the Chelsea hierarchy that they should commit to a player who is 30-years-old when there is already an excess of elder statesman in that position including Frank Lampard (31), Michael Ballack (32) and Deco (31).
Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, came back early from the club's tour of America last week to begin working on the deal and there now appears a willingness from Milan to part with a player they have had for eight years. Pizarro, 30, was on loan at Werder Bremen last season having failed to make any impression at Chelsea since joining on a free transfer two years ago.
Pirlo's arrival is likely to affect Ballack above all. Lampard and John Obi Mikel have been picked ahead of him in the central positions in the club's pre-season friendlies with the Englishman playing at the point of the diamond. Ballack has never really settled into a definitive role at Chelsea and Pirlo's strong relationship with Ancelotti means that the Italian is certain to figure prominently.
The Italian World Cup winner is Milan's playmaker, a man who picks passes and sets the rhythm for his side. That role has never really existed at Chelsea with Claude Makelele and then Mikel working as defensive midfielders and Lampard playing an exceptionally attacking role. It will be curious to see how Ancelotti makes the team work. Traditionally Pirlo has played at Milan alongside Gennaro Gattuso, a ball-winning midfielder.
The move to sign Pirlo does demonstrate that Abramovich is prepared to give his new manager some backing in the transfer market. Previous signings this summer Yuri Zhirkov, Daniel Sturridge and Ross Turnbull have clearly been selected by the club's sporting director, Frank Arnesen, whose influence at the club only seems to grow despite a fruitless spell as head of the academy.
Chelsea are still very keen to get rid of Deco but Internazionale have not come close to matching their valuation. There was an interest in the Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso but he has made it clear that he is only interested in signing for Real Madrid. Likewise, they have been thwarted in their attempts to sign Franck Ribéry from Bayern Munich and David Villa from Valencia. Pirlo is not exactly the marquee name that captain John Terry will have had in mind when he urged the club to show their ambition with new signings this summer.
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