Chelsea pensioners must earn new deals
Chelsea’s season could still end in either glory or disappointment, and the outcome looks like determining whether or not some of their older stars will still be there next season.
Michael Ballack, 33, and 32-year-old Deco are both out of contract at the end of the campaign, as is Juliano Belletti, 33, who has already accepted that he will leave west London, probably to return to his native Brazil.
Joe Cole, 28, still hasn’t signed a new contract and could leave for free in June as things stand, something that Roman Abramovich doesn’t seem too bothered about.
The Russian owner’s decision to suspend all contract talks until the end of the season is believed to be aimed at making sure those who are seeking new deals actually deserve them.
With the Blues chasing glory on two fronts, Abramovich has challenged the soon to be out-of-contract stars – plus others, 31-year-old Nicolas Anelka has only one year left on his deal and wants a new one – to prove that they should still be at the club next season, with his ire provoked by what he saw as a limp, lacklustre and humiliating elimination in the second round of the Champions League at the hands of Inter Milan and José Mourinho, the manager that he so ruthlessly dispensed with in September 2007.
The Russian is also believed to want a tighter control over salaries that he believes have risen to over-inflated levels, especially in the wake of last week’s revelation that the club’s wage bill stands at £142.6million, a Premier League record high. Carlo Ancelotti has reportedly told Abramovich that he would like to keep Cole, Ballack, Deco and Anelka, but the owner’s decision places their futures in doubt.
It is Cole’s fate that will be of the most interest.
A gifted attacking midfielder of rare quality, the England international could walk into most teams in the Premier League, and – should he become available for free – would certainly attract a lot of interest.
Abramovich’s decision probably affects him the most. Safe in the knowledge that his services will be more than welcomed elsewhere – Tottenham, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs have been linked – he has resisted signing a new deal, and will be anxious to either sort out his future at Chelsea or at another club as soon as possible.
Chelsea’s owner still craves the Champions League more than anything, and the suspicion remains that he wants to bring in some new blood in a bid to finally taste continental glory next season.
Ancelotti could be under pressure from his boss to shake up the squad in the summer, perhaps with some fresh talents from the World Cup. The Italian may want to keep the members of his squad whose deals are running out, but that isn’t his choice to make.
Who’s to say that one of Cole and company won’t make themselves indispensible by scoring the goal that clinches the league title or the FA Cup? But Abramovich doesn’t seem to think that way.
Like most things at Chelsea, it is the man who signs the cheques who will ultimately have the final say.