Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea, is at risk losing stars after putting new contract talks on hold

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Matt Hughes

Chelsea are in danger of losing several of their biggest names for nothing this summer after being instructed by Roman Abramovich to suspend all contract talks until the end of the season.

Abramovich, the owner, is adamant that Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco must prove they deserve new deals by playing an influential role in bringing silverware to the club as Chelsea chase the first league and FA Cup Double in their history over the next month. The Russian’s stance has raised the prospect of the three players leaving on free transfers when their contracts expire in June.

Nicolas Anelka’s situation is less pressing because he has 12 months remaining on his contract, but the France striker has so far been denied the extension he is seeking.

Abramovich’s decision to put contract negotiations on hold stems from a combination of his desire to reverse the recent spiralling of the club’s wage bill and disappointment at Chelsea’s elimination from the Champions League.

Sources close to the Russian claim that he remains angry at the meek manner of their exit to Inter Milan in the first knockout round — particularly the embarrassment of being beaten by a team coached by José Mourinho, their former manager — and is determined to send a strong message to his players that such lacklustre performances will not be tolerated.

Others at the club, though, insist that the need to focus on the three remaining Barclays Premier League matches and the FA Cup Final is the main reason behind the contractual impasse.

Abramovich’s determination to exert tighter control over salaries cannot be doubted, however, particularly as the club revealed last week that their wage bill has risen to a Premier League record of £142.6 million. Carlo Ancelotti, the manager, has told the board that he would like to retain all four players, but was not involved in the initial talks, which failed to produce any agreement.

Ballack had rejected the offer of a one-year extension as he wants to prolong his career until the 2012 European Championship, but the club are unwilling to offer greater security to a 33-year-old. The Germany captain’s representatives want a compromise whereby the second year would be triggered only if he made 30 starts for the club next season and have been frustrated at not being given an audience.

Cole’s on-off negotiations have broken down largely because of money, with Chelsea failing to match his £100,000-a-week pay demands and instead offering a modest pay rise to £85,000 a week. The England midfield player is also concerned at the limited opportunities he has been given by Ancelotti, who will not offer a guarantee that he will play more next season.

Deco, 32, has yet to be offered a new contract of any sort while it is Anelka who is closest to signing a deal. The 31-year-old is happy with the three-year contract proposed several months ago, but it will not be discussed again until after the Cup Final on May 15.

Abramovich’s hard line on wages and contracts could backfire because the World Cup finals will leave little opportunity to reopen negotiations at the end of the season. England’s players are due to fly out for a training camp in Austria two days after the Cup Final and Ballack, Deco and Anelka will have similar commitments with Germany, Portugal and France respectively.

Inter Milan have made a tentative approach via a third party for Ballack, while Cole and Deco would also have no shortage of offers if they fail to agree new terms.


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