Torres gets six months to save Chelsea career
Fernando Torres will not leave Chelsea in the January transfer window but, for the first time, doubts over the long-term Stamford Bridge future of the most expensive player in British football history have started to emerge.
Chelsea yesterday moved swiftly to dismiss speculation that the club would consider bids of as little as £20m for the Spanish international, who has scored just three Premier League goals since moving to west London from Liverpool on the final day of this year's January transfer window for £50m, insisting that the 27-year-old remains "part of the club's long-term plans".
More pressingly, of course, Torres will be expected to lead the line for Andre Villas-Boas' side when Didier Drogba departs for the African Cup of Nations next month.
The Ivorian, whose form has relegated the former Atletico Madrid striker to the substitutes' bench in recent weeks, could be absent for as much as six weeks and with Nicolas Anelka due to depart for Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua and Salomon Kalou likely to follow him out the exit door, Villas-Boas will be left with just Torres and Daniel Sturridge as senior forwards.
But despite the club's public stance, and Torres' immediate importance, it is thought Villas-Boas would be willing to countenance a sale in the summer, should a suitable offer arrive.
The manager discussed the possibility of selling the striker last summer, just six months into his career at the club, only to afford him a second chance to rediscover his spark.
But Torres' poor displays, combined with Villas-Boas' interest in the likes of Napoli striker Edinson Cavani and his former charge Radamel Falcao -- formerly of Porto and now with cash-strapped Atletico Madrid -- indicate that the Spaniard will not be afforded a third.
Prolific Uruguay international Cavani has been in a rich vein of form ever since moving to Napoli, helping the club beat Manchester City to a place in the Champions League knockout stages.
While the Italian side's president Aurelio De Laurentiis would be reluctant to let his most valuable asset leave, he is said to be conscious that the fee would help construct an even stronger unit.
Falcao, meanwhile, was Villas-Boas' primary attacking requirement last summer but joined Atletico -- Torres' former club -- for £38m when the manager elected to stand by the Spaniard and Drogba.
The Spanish side's financial troubles, though, would make a sale possible.
Villas-Boas is not thought to be targeting a striker in the January transfer window, despite the absence of Drogba. Chelsea have not yet made any formal contact with Universidad de Chile over their coveted forward Eduardo Vargas, who is rated at around £10m.
The Portuguese manager is, it is thought, more concerned with reviving his interest in Uruguayan winger Alvaro Pereira, available from Porto for £20m.
The prospect of Drogba remaining in the long-term was boosted when Villas-Boas last week agreed that the 34-year-old could play at the highest level for another two seasons -- it is Drogba's desire to be granted a two-year contract extension which has prevented him agreeing new terms at Stamford Bridge thus far.
Chelsea also issued a stringent denial yesterday that left-back Ashley Cole was responsible for a 30-man melee in the Stamford Bridge tunnel after Monday's 2-1 Premier League victory over Manchester City.
"Contrary to reports, Ashley Cole did not say anything to the opposition in the tunnel after Monday's game," said a Chelsea spokesman.
"Ashley has huge respect for the players and staff at Manchester City, many of whom he knows personally and calls friends."
City manager Roberto Mancini stated after the game that there had been a heated exchange in the tunnel between players from both teams.
"I don't know if (Ashley) Cole said something. I don't know what he said. I don't understand," said Mancini.
Villas-Boas offered a swift denial of Cole's involvement. "It's untrue and it's unfair," he said. "It really doesn't matter now."
Chelsea's victory has thrust them back into the Premier League title race, leaving them seven points behind leaders City. They face Wigan on Saturday before travelling to fellow title contenders Tottenham Hotspur the following Thursday. (© Independent News Service)