Chelsea's delay risks convincing Lampard to opt for Inter

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The Independent Football

As Chelsea's pursuit of a new manager grinds on without any obvious sign of progress, the prospect is deepening of an exodus of players from Stamford Bridge, including Frank Lampard joining Jose Mourinho's Internazionale.

Milan claimed yesterday they had held informal talks with Chelsea over the possible purchase of strikers Andrei Shevchenko and Didier Drogba. However, the club's vice-president, Adriano Galliani, insisted there was no prospect of Kaka heading in the opposite direction, despite his name cropping up in conversation with Chelsea's chief executive Peter Kenyon.

More worrying for Chelsea, however, is the prospect of Lampard, with whom a new contract has not yet been agreed, heading out to join Mourinho. The former Chelsea manager is understood to have told the Internazionale president, Massimo Moratti, that Lampard – currently mulling over his future on holiday in Dubai – is his priority signing. The sense of drift surrounding the managerial vacancy at Stamford Bridge will not be helping the situation, either.

Though Chelsea are understood not to have entirely ruled out the prospect of hiring Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian's rebuttal of suggestions that he had met Kenyon in Paris on Monday night, allied with Mark Hughes' decision to join Manchester City yesterday, apparently leaves Chelsea as far away as ever from finding a successor to Avram Grant.

The new leading contender appears to be Luciano Spalletti, who led Roma to second place in Serie A as well as the quarter-finals of the Champions League in each of the last two seasons. But his arrival at Stamford Bridge could depend on Gianfranco Zola being named as his assistant.

Zola recently hinted that he felt he needed more time developing his coaching skills with the Italy Under-21 side, though he by no means ruled out a return to Chelsea where he remains a hero after a distinguished playing career with the club.

Spalletti, 49, who speaks little English, was hoping to boost his squad at Roma with a sizeable transfer kitty this summer but that now looks increasingly unlikely because of the debts of the club's parent company, Italpetroli, thought to be in the region of £300m.

Intriguingly, Galliani stated on Saturday that Ancelotti and "another Italian coach" were top of Chelsea's wish-list, although he refused to divulge the name of the second coach. Spalletti is by no means the obvious candidate to replace Grant, but he did revitalise Udinese during his three-year spell with the club before taking over at Roma.

Another possible contender is the Portugal national coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, though sources in Portugal consider it highly unlikely that a manager well paid when his sponsorship deals and salary are taken into consideration actually intends to leave. Whether Chelsea would want a manager with such an indifferent record in club football also seems unlikely. Scolari has been adamant that he will not make a decision on his future until after the European Championships.

Roberto Mancini, ousted to make way for Mourinho despite delivering Internazionale three consecutive Serie A titles, seems the most obvious choice and he has consistently had the shortest of odds. But the Italian is not thought to be highly regarded by the club's hierarchy. Frank Rijkaard's prospects are dependent on Frank Arnesen holding sway at Chelsea – but it has been suggested that next season will be his last as sporting director.

On the playing front, Milan are desperate to sign a new striker and Galliani has previously indicated that Drogba is a target for Ancelotti. Drogba himself was open about wanting to leave Chelsea in the wake of Mourinho's departure last September but later appeared to regret making his remarks public.

Shevchenko has failed to settle at Stamford Bridge since his move from Milan two years ago and he is expected to return to San Siro. The Ukrainian has strong ties with the club and in particular with Silvio Berlusconi, who is godfather to the striker's son.

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