Rivals beginning to circle after Chelsea release Joe Cole and Michael Ballack..
Chelsea will confirm the imminent departures of Joe Cole and Michael Ballack on Wednesday on free transfers after the pair failed to agree new contracts at Stamford Bridge.
The club have been negotiating with the players’ representatives over extensions to contracts that expire this summer for several months, but have been unable to agree terms, and the players will leave as free agents on July 1.
Chelsea’s surprise announcement will spark a scramble for their signatures, as despite falling out of favour in West London both players are very much in demand. Cole recovered from a disappointing domestic season to earn a place in England’s World Cup squad at the eleventh hour and is in contention to start their opening match of the tournament, against the United States on Saturday, while Ballack would have been in South Africa as Germany captain had he not suffered an ankle injury in Chelsea’s FA Cup Final win over Portsmouth.
Cole has attracted strong levels of interest from all of Chelsea’s leading rivals in the Premier League, with Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur set to follow up their initial inquiries over the next few days. Given Cole’s desire to stay in London and the appeal of being reunited with Harry Redknapp, White Hart Lane appears to be his most likely destination because Tottenham, unlike Arsenal and Liverpool, would have little problem matching his wage demands. An offer to work with Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford would, however, be hard to turn down.
Ballack will leave England after four seasons at Chelsea that, despite delivering one Premier League title and two FA Cups, he will look back on with some disappointment. He, too, will have no shortage of suitors. Werder Bremen have made clear their desire to bring him back to Germany, and José Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, has made contact with his representatives to examine the possibility of Ballack joining Real Madrid.
Several wealthy clubs in the United Arab Emirates Pro League are also preparing to make him an offer should he decide to opt for a lower quality of football while remaining on high wages.
Cole’s future at Chelsea looked bleak for most of the season after contract talks broke down after Christmas. Cole had been holding out for a £20,000-a-week pay rise to £100,000, but Chelsea refused to budge, to such an extent that the initial offer of £85,000 a week was withdrawn.
Ballack, 33, was seeking a new two-year contract that would enable him to play on at the highest level until the 2012 European Championship, an even more important aspiration after missing the World Cup finals, whereas Chelsea were willing only to give him another year. Ballack offered to take a big pay cut and make the second year contingent upon him playing a large number of games next season, but Chelsea were not willing to back down.
Chelsea’s decision to release two of their senior players is the tangible evidence of long-professed desire for financial retrenchment of Roman Abramovich, the owner, taking effect, although it could end up costing them money in the short term. Carlo Ancelotti, the manager, is intending to promote five youngsters to the first team next season, but finding effective replacements for Cole and Ballack will not be cheap.