Chelsea have tabled an audacious €50m (£43.7m) bid to bring Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry to Stamford Bridge this summer.
The bid, sanctioned by the club's chief executive Peter Kenyon, was tabled several weeks ago and discussions are ongoing, though the Frenchman's salary demands appear to present an obstacle to a deal which would raise serious questions about Didier Drogba's future in west London. Chelsea are understood to have offered the Bayern player's representatives an annual net salary of €5.5m (£4.7m). Ribéry is holding out for €7m (£6m). But discussions on price are understood to be well down the line for a deal which offers further evidence that the Milan manager, Carlo Ancelotti, is destined for Chelsea.
Ancelotti revealed yesterday that he had indicated to Chelsea's proprietor Roman Abramovich that Ribéry was a player he should buy. Ancelotti said that he had told Abramovich that he needed "more quality in the middle of the pitch". He continued: "I gave him two names – Franck Ribéry and Xabi Alonso – as players that would have made him very happy." Ancelotti's indiscreet disclosures in his autobiography do not appear to be deterring Abramovich from hiring him in the next few days.
Manchester United have also been linked with Ribéry, whose future at the Allianz Arena is in doubt after Jürgen Klinsmann's departure from the club – though Old Trafford has rejected in the strongest possible terms any suggestion they might covet him. United's offer was said to have been considerably greater than Chelsea's – €70m (£62.5m) – but Chelsea's own bid to secure the services of the player is still near the world record £46m paid by Real Madrid for Zinedine Zidane in 2001.
The increasing likelihood that Cristiano Ronaldo will remain with United next season further detracts from any suggestion that Ribéry might be United's this summer.
Ribéry earns €8m a year in Munich, the equivalent of £134,000 a week, so Chelsea are well short of parity and the unfavourable exchange rate will make the amount even greater – around £145,000 a week – to match his Bayern salary. Chelsea hope they can capitalise on Barcelona's own failure to capture a player who did not disguise his disappointment after Klinsmann's side's poor 5-1 aggregate defeat to the Catalans in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Word of the Barcelona discussions with Ribéry's representatives leaked out and that saw discussions grind to a halt.
Though Ancelotti suggests in his book that a year ago Abramovich admitted to Ancelotti that his Chelsea team "has no personality," Hiddink yesterday said personality was one thing Ancelotti does not lack.
Hiddink, whose final game in charge of the Blues will be Saturday's FA Cup final with Everton, described Ancelotti as "very direct and open" – much the same words Chelsea players use when talking about Hiddink himself.
But he believes it is vital that the incoming manager must be able to speak directly to the players in a common tongue, which means Ancelotti had better start taking double English lessons right away.
Hiddink said: "I know the man personally. I've met him several times. The last time was at Jaap Stam's farewell game in Holland. He and I were on the same bench coaching the 1998 Dutch team against the side where Jaap had his first game.
"We had a nice game, a nice evening together. He's a very, very nice person. Very direct and open. Seeing his career in Italy, his playing career but also his managing career, it's full of prizes and experience."
Asked how important it was that the new Chelsea manager speaks good English, the erudite Dutchman replied: "It is important to communicate directly with the players."
Hiddink enjoys a healthy working relationship with Abramovich, a relationship Ancelotti might not be able to emulate, given the degree of openness in his new book, which was launched in Rome on Tuesday. The extent of Hiddink's closeness to Abramovich was revealed yesterday when Hiddink said it was the Russian oligarch who lifted him out of his dark mood following Chelsea's controversial elimination by Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final three weeks ago.
Hiddink said: "After Barcelona I was not in the best state of mind and then I saw him the next day at the training ground he said, 'Be proud because you have made a good impression world wide with the way you have played'."
Image is important to Abramovich, who dismissed Jose Mourinho because he believed he was giving the club a bad name. Hiddink can reflect on a job well done, in that he has managed, by and large, to repair the damage done to Chelsea's reputation, while overseeing a revival on the pitch.