Real Madrid last night moved to exploit the disarray at Chelsea by trying to entice Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack to Spain
Ian Hawkey in Madrid
REAL MADRID last night moved to exploit the disarray at Chelsea by trying to entice Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack to Spain. Bernd Schuster, the Real coach, yesterday set his sights firmly on Drogba, who was reportedly in tears when Jose Mourinho said his emotional farewells last Thursday.
“He is an important target and we’ve been after him for some time,” confirmed Schuster. He added that Germany captain Ballack “ought to have come to Madrid already, without wasting any more time in London” before admitting the player’s injury difficulties meant further negotiations were on hold.
The pursuit of Drogba, the 29-year-old Ivory Coast striker, has taken on new urgency for the Spanish champions, who want to know if he would be ready to move in January. They would probably be joined in the hunt by Milan while Barcelona and Juventus will closely monitor England midfielder Frank Lampard’s response to Mourinho’s exit. Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, says his client has already had nine offers from England and abroad, two “serious”, so it is possible that any disaffected Chelsea stars could follow him to his new club, probably in Italy or Germany as his £17m severance package precludes his taking another Premier League post this season.
Avram Grant, who stepped into Mourinho’s shoes at Chelsea, has already been the target of abuse by a section of the club’s supporters but last night he insisted he had not “stabbed Mourinho in the back”. He said: I enjoyed working with him and respect what he has achieved. I came here to do another job, I didn’t plan to be manager.”
The former Israel coach, in charge for the first time against Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford this afternoon, has been a friend of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s billionaire owner, since 2004, and was first offered a job by him two years ago. He was offered the “club of his choice” over dinner with Abramovich, who was in Jaffa to see an Israel international match. Grant said: “He said, ‘Coach, which team do you want to manage? I’ll sort it out for you’.” The Israeli did not take up that offer, but last Wednesday he jumped at the chance to succeed Mourinho.
Peter Kenyon, Chelsea’s chief executive, confirmed that not only did Grant not have the title of manager or a contract, but that he also lacked the necessary coaching qualifications, before explaining: “Within a few weeks Avram’s [Israeli] qualification will count in England.”
Mourinho, meanwhile, said he would work again in England. “I will definitely come back, but it will have to be the step after my next one.” It is an intriguing thought that if the Steve McClaren revival peters out, Mourinho would be available to manage England. Longer term, what price him succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at United?