Belfast Telegraph

Big guns ready to snap up free agent Cole

Joe Cole will become a free agent on July 1 as Chelsea decided against making last-minute attempts to keep him at the club.

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti was heavily involved in the decision to allow Cole to leave on a free transfer after seven years at Stamford Bridge, a decision which has the full agreement of the club's Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

Cole is likely to join one of Chelsea's closest rivals, with Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all vying for his signature.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp would appear to be in pole position, as the pair worked together at West Ham and Redknapp publicly stated on Monday that he would like to sign Cole.

Chelsea have also terminated all talks with Germany's international captain Michael Ballack and he too will leave on a free transfer.

The Double-winners have officially notified the Football Association and the Premier League of their decision to release Cole, Ballack and versatile defender Juliano Belletti at the end of the month.

The decision to allow Cole to leave comes as the 28-year-old prepares to play what could be a key part in England's challenge for the World Cup in South Africa.

Cole was the only player to complete the full 90 minutes of Monday's warm-up game against the Platinum Stars, in which he also scored, and he has a good chance of being selected for Saturday's first group game against the USA.

His increasing involvement with England suggests coach Fabio Capello could once again turn to him when Group C kicks off in earnest in Rustenburg on Saturday night.

But even though his international stock is on the rise, his club clearly feel he is surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.

The decision has been in the air for months, but still it is remarkable that Chelsea are happy for Cole to leave for nothing.

The board's decision not to make any new offers to Cole is likely to go down badly with the club's supporters as the midfielder was one of the most popular players with the Stamford Bridge crowd.

The decision has been made partly for financial reasons, as Chelsea did not want to be held to ransom.

Cole wanted a £30,000-a-week pay rise on his existing contract which is worth around £80,000 a week.

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