Chelsea have identified Samuel Eto'o as a priority transfer target for the summer. It is understood that Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich covets the Barcelona striker as a player capable of producing the pulse-quickening football he craves for Stamford Bridge.
To that end, a scout was sent to the African Nations Cup with instructions to observe the Cameroon striker's progress at the tournament. Eto'o, a two-time African footballer of the year, returned as the competition's leading scorer with five goals in four matches.
A source from the coterie of agents who deal with the player's contractual and commercial interests revealed that a ?30m offer had been prepared by Chelsea during last month's transfer window, though Barcelona's director of football, Txiki Beguiristain, insisted it was never formally conveyed. Nevertheless, it is strongly rumoured in Catalonia that one of the four most highly regarded attacking players at the Camp Nou - Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Eto'o and Deco - will be sold this summer.
Barcelona have made Thierry Henry their principal target for the next transfer window. The Arsenal striker has still yet to commit to the ?30m-plus, five-year contract believed to have been offered by the Highbury board. Should he accede to Barcelona's overtures, Henry's switch this summer - one for which Arsenal could be expected to demand around ?15m - could comfortably be funded by Eto'o's departure.
The news of Chelsea's interest in the 24-year-old Eto'o emerges little more than a week before he faces the Premiership champions in next Wednesday's Champions League fixture at Stamford Bridge. The last match in which the two clubs met at the venue, which produced a 4-2 Champions League quarter-final win for Chelsea last season, ended in enmity, with Eto'o making allegations that he had been racially abused by a Chelsea steward.
There were clashes in the players' tunnel that led to accusations that Eto'o had spat at a member of Chelsea's ground staff. The question of whether Eto'o can nevertheless be persuaded to play at Chelsea could be made more palatable for the player by the personal terms on offer. His Camp Nou salary of ?60,000 per week is less than half of the ?158,000 per week his team-mate Ronaldinho currently earns, a figure that would make a transfer offer for the world footballer of the year prohibitive even for Chelsea.
Meanwhile lawyers for the Chelsea target John Obi Mikel yesterday appealed against the verdict of the Oslo city court that it has no jurisdiction in his contract wrangle involving Lyn Oslo and Manchester United. Mikel, who won the best emerging player award at the African Nations Cup with Nigeria, lodged his appeal against the ruling, which also ordered him to pay costs, with a higher legal authority in Norway.
With the midfielder not playing club football while he disputes the legality of two separate contracts Lyn and United hold with him - if it had been upheld, the latter would have seen him move to Old Trafford last month - it is hoped that the appeal will be heard within weeks. If successful, the matter will return to the Oslo city court for its consideration.
United have left the way open for Chelsea to pursue their interest in the American teenager Freddy Adu by making it clear they have no interest in him. The club are reluctant to take on Chelsea in terms of financial muscle but, most importantly, Sir Alex Ferguson has reservations about whether Adu will live up to the hype he has attracted since he was 14.
Adu, 16, is playing for DC United in Major League Soccer, and Chelsea have had negotiations about adding him to their payroll. Old Trafford scouts have also been monitoring his progress but Ferguson said: "We are not interested in Adu. We watched him as a youngster, but there is no interest in him at the moment."