Chelsea should be back in the transfer market in January after Fifa conceded that it is virtually powerless to prevent the suspension of the club's transfer ban while they await the result of the appeal against the judgement at the Court of Arbitration in Sport in Switzerland.
The decision should allow the club's manager, Carlo Ancelotti, to sign players to cover for any potential injury problems come January, which would be exacerbated by the loss of four key players to the African Cup of Nations that month. Chelsea have pointed to an important precedent in Swiss football when a punishment was suspended pending a ruling from the CAS.
Ancelotti returned to Italy yesterday to visit his father Giuseppe, 86, a former farmhand with his own smallholding, who has been ill. It is expected that he will return to take charge of the team for tomorrow's game against Blackburn Rovers but, in the meantime, his assistant Ray Wilkins is doing the weekly press conference this morning.
Chelsea have been so sensitive about their attempts to get the ban suspended that they have not even formally announced their appeal. The news that they had requested the suspension of the ban came out on Wednesday night from the CAS just before Chelsea were due to play Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Chelsea hope to get the good news in two weeks' time when the CAS has considered the club's written submissions.
Chelsea were banned last month from signing any players until 2011 as part of a punishment for what Fifa claimed was the club inducing Gaël Kakuta to break the terms of his contract with the French club Lens in 2007. Chelsea have always claimed that the contract aspirant Kakuta signed with Lens was not legally binding and therefore they could not be accused of inducing him to break it.
Whether Chelsea can get the judgement overturned by the CAS is debatable. But the suspension of it for January will give them the chance to make vital signings if they find themselves in a difficult position at the turn of the year. They are already in a position where they will have to cope without Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou, who will be on international duty in Angola.
The precedent which Chelsea believe will permit them to get the ban suspended for January involves the case of the Swiss club FC Sion's controversial acquisition of the Egypt international goalkeeper Essam El Hadary. FC Sion were banned by Fifa from transfers for two transfer windows for their part in it and fined. The player was given a four-month ban on the grounds that he has broken his contract with the Egyptian side Al-Ahly.
In July, both the player's and the club's punishments were suspended pending El Hadary's appeal to the CAS. Fifa accepted the temporary suspension of punishments, saying in a statement at the time: "CAS granted the suspension, which is standard practice in cases of this kind and complies with CAS jurisprudence." The case has yet to be heard by the CAS.
The CAS moves slowly and setting a date at which Chelsea and Fifa's lawyers will all be available will be difficult. The court itself is booked up to December with few spare days until the end of the year. The chances of the case being heard before the transfer window opens in January are said to be remote.
Because of the unique way in which football works, should Chelsea be exonerated by the CAS in, for example, February, therewould be no way that they could then go about acquiring the players they would like to have bought in January. These factors all contribute towards the likelihood of them being successful in their attempt to have the ban suspended for this January.
Fifa was last night consulting its lawyers on the matter and refused to comment. The governing body is well aware that it made a huge decision with repercussions for the major European clubs when it gave Chelsea a transfer ban until 2011 in September. Fifa can ill afford to lose the case. Kakuta himself has already begun serving his own four-month ban.
Yesterday, Fifa also announced it will step up measures to prevent countries from fielding over-age players in international youth tournaments.
At the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria this weekend, medical officers will take MRI scans of players' wrists. They will be able to determine a player's age by examining the fusion of bones. Despite protests about the reliability of the tests, the Nigerian football association has already dropped 15 boys from the national squad.
Shopping list: Who Chelsea may sign
Emile Heskey, Aston Villa
Cover for strikers. Wants a move and not Champions League cup-tied.
Connor Wickham, Ipswich Town
At 16 he is already in the Ipswich first team. Most promising English player of his age group. How could Frank Arnesen resist?
Alex Teixeira, Vasco da Gama
The 19-year-old playmaker is the next big thing from Brazil.Reuse content