Chelsea target Richards to fill the Terry void
Jose Mourinho has long coveted Manchester City's teenage right-back Micah Richards but, in the light of the worsening prognosis on John Terry's injury, the Chelsea manager has made it clear to his club that signing the player next month is a priority.
However, Mourinho has, in the last week, come to see Richards as Chelsea's immediate solution at centre-back rather than right-back.
Asking an 18-year-old to fill the boots of the Chelsea and England captain might seem like a tall order in the second half of the tightest Premiership title race in years, but Richards now seems destined to take centre stage at Chelsea. Mourinho had initially identified Richards as the man to fill his problem right-back place, but now he has an even more important role for the player.
The Chelsea manager has consulted his senior England players about Richards' suitability to join the champions and has been reassured that the teenager looked comfortable in the company of his international team-mates before the friendly against the Netherlands last month. Chelsea were prepared to wait until the summer, although the injury to Terry now seems to have forced their hand.
Mourinho's admission that he did not know when Terry would be fit enough to return was no exaggeration. Terry himself has not yet been told exactly what the root of the problem is with his back, although there is general consensus that it is damage to a single disc that is causing him such discomfort. He last played 15 days ago against Newcastle and the pain he is experiencing has escalated dramatically since then.
Mourinho has looked at the possibility of signing Porto's highly rated Brazilian centre-back Pepe Ferreira, who would, unfortunately, not be eligible to play in the Champions' League. Ferreira, however, is still waiting to get his Portuguese passport and the club feared that there could be problems over his work permit.
The issue of a fee for Richards is likely to come down to a simple case of Chelsea making Manchester City an offer they cannot turn down. The City chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, negotiated a whopping £21m fee for Shaun Wright-Phillips in the summer of last year when it became apparent to Chelsea that Arsenal were close to signing the player.
Mackintosh has again built a strong position with Richards after agreeing a four-year contract with the player in August. It has been suggested to City that Wright-Phillips will not be part of a loan deal although, come the end of January, Chelsea's desperation may force them to use Wright-Phillips to acquire Richards.
While Chelsea's policy on transfers usually means that they have more than one target so they cannot be held to ransom over players, the circumstances of Terry's injury and Richards' emergence - and his eligibility for the Champions' League - means that City could land another windfall.
Mourinho admitted for the first time after the draw with Reading on Boxing Day that "we don't have enough cover, so at this moment in time we are having problems". There are doubts that Joe Cole will make it back to fitness by February - the current date set for his return - and Arjen Robben is also out until the new year with a foot problem.
With the gap to Manchester United at the top now up to four points, Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho observed: "Chelsea were champions twice in a row and all of England wants any champion apart from Chelsea. The strong club, in terms of a fan base, is Manchester United. Chelsea are now taking the first steps in that direction."