Chelsea ready to let Didier Drogba leave
Chelsea and Didier Drogba will announce the striker's departure in the next few days, with both sides reconciled to the fact that a parting of the ways after Saturday's victorious Champions League final is now inevitable.
Drogba's role in the club's win on penalties over Bayern Munich did fuel speculation that he might stay, but in reality the decision was made some time ago that he would not sign a new contract when his existing deal runs out. The club do not see the logic of giving the Ivorian the two-year deal he wants and being a free agent will be lucrative for Drogba, with the possibility of following Nicolas Anelka to the Chinese super league.
There were quotes attributed to Drogba last night to the effect that he was prepared for a "leap into the unknown" but the player denied, through the club, that they were his words. In the same report, from France Football magazine, it was claimed that Drogba had told his Chelsea team-mates that he was leaving the club during their open-top bus tour of west London on Sunday afternoon.
Nevertheless, a formal announcement is expected in the next few days, with the parting on amicable terms. After eight years with Chelsea there could hardly have been a more remarkable finale to his time than the winning penalty in the Champions League final.
Drogba's most likely option is Shanghai Shenhua, although that is by no means certain. The Chinese club have emerged as one of the biggest payers in world football, signing Anelka from Chelsea in January on a two-year deal worth £220,000 a week, and they have long been the favourites to sign his former team-mate.
While the Chinese super league club's capacity to pay is not in doubt, they are struggling this season in 12th position in a 16-team league after 11 games.
Yesterday, Anelka expressed his first doubts about staying there, having been appointed "player coach" after the dismissal of the manager, Jean Tigana. In effect, he is working under Jean-Florent Ikwange, the acting head coach.
Anelka's comments, translated from Chinese, suggested frustration at club politics: "If there is still no one to support me and [they] continue to play little tricks behind my back, then I will quickly decide whether or not to retire. This will be decided on what happens in the next few weeks."
The decision on Roberto Di Matteo's future is unlikely to be made by the end of the week. The interim Chelsea manager, having delivered the Champions League and the FA Cup, is playing at the BMW PGA Championship pro-am golf event at Wentworth tomorrow.
The Chelsea chief executive, Ron Gourlay, said: "Now we have to sit down over the next week or two, or however long it takes, because we've got to do what is right for the football club."