Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chelsea suffer fresh blow with Spalletti snub

Chelsea's search for a new manager endured another setback last night when Luciano Spalletti, the impressive Roma coach, followed Carlo Ancelotti's lead by becoming the second Italian to distance himself from the vacant position at Stamford Bridge in successive days.

Spalletti, who has implemented an attractive brand of attacking football since assuming the reins in the Italian capital three years ago, has led Roma to runners-up spot and the Champions League quarter-finals in each of the past two seasons, which had alerted Roman Abramovich's advisers to his quality. Most eye-catching was last season's elimination of Real Madrid in the knockout stage.

His agent, Vlado Lemic, is understood to have held informal talks with Chelsea officials in Paris. However, the 49-year-old manager has since made it clear privately that he does not wish to proceed with discussions. He apparently feels he is not yet experienced enough to take on a challenge of the size of Chelsea and has expressed concern at his lack of English.

The language barrier had also appeared to rule out any interest from Chelsea in the World Cup-winning Italy coach Marcello Lippi, though the club would have been confident of prising Spalletti - whose previous coaching experience came largely at Udinese, whom he took into the Champions League - from the Stadio Olimpico, with Roma a club rendered vulnerable by considerable debts.

The club's parent company, Italpetroli, is reported to be saddled with debts or about £300m. The manager was due to meet Roma officials yesterday to discuss what remains of his transfer budget for next term, though he may yet lose influential players such as Alberto Aquilani and the Brazilians Juan and Mancini to richer suitors this summer.

Chelsea remain "comfortable" with the way their selection process is progressing, though focus is increasingly falling upon the Portugal head coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, who will not consider his own future until after the European Championship. The London club are prepared to wait that long to secure the right man, though any hopes that Ancelotti could still be persuaded to leave Milan are receding.

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