Chelsea news first, then Rooney after the jump:
- Before the match against Spartak Moscow, Yuri Zhirkov had been reassured about his role in the team's future by manager Carlo Ancelotti. The Russian has had an up and down start to his career with the Blues since joining from CSKA Moscow a little more than a year ago, missing most of the year to injury but playing an important part in the team's play down the stretch after Ashley Cole's injury had left a vacancy at left-back. There had been rumours that Zhirkov was unsettled in London and unhappy about not having a regular place in the team - to the extent that there were strong rumblings last summer of a transfer to Spartak - but Zhirkov addressed them before the Moscow game:
"It is just rumours and speculation. I don't want to leave Chelsea and, if the manager doesn't want to sell me, I will stay. I've not lived up to my full potential because I haven't played too many games in the first team, but I'll try to show more. I'm getting fitter game by game, and I'll try to show more. My fitness is getting better and I'm feeling more confident."
- Speaking of Zhirkov, he features prominently in Zonal Marking's recap of yesterday's game, where he talks about everything I did and quite a lot about what I didn't. Anyone interested in tactical analysis should be reading ZM multiple times per day. [Zonal Marking]
- Apparently there's a new prodigy emerging at Sporting Lisbon - a 15 year old Portuguese kid named 'Bruma.' Chelsea and City are supposedly in the mix to take him off Lisbon's hands, but they'll be facing fierce competition from the home team, as they'll be in line for a lucrative transfer fee if they can convince Bruma to sign his first professional contract with them. [Mail]
- Are you a Ghana fan who misses Michael Essien? Miss him no more, for Essien has once again made himself available for international duty after complete recovery from a knee injury he sustained during last season's Africa Cup of Nations. Having their best player return to the fold can only be good news for the Black Stars. [BBC]
- Like goals? So does Fabio Borini, who was apparently vexed by the senior team's failure to net at Villa Park (he was on the bench). So he went out and scored five of them against West Bromwich Albion's reserves, leading the team to a 5-4 win. Borini may not have a future with the big squad, having been repeatedly linked with moves abroad, but the 19 year old certainly impressed yesterday. [Chelsea Youth]
At a press conference yesterday, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that Wayne Rooney was indeed refusing to sign a new contract, and indeed that United have known about the situation since at least the start of the season - apparently Rooney gave notice that he was not interested in signing an extension as early as August 14th. Ferguson was understandably subdued as he laid out the facts of the case, but it's almost a certainty that he will now leave in the January transfer window. There's also been some speculation that Rooney's refusal to sign a new contract and subsequent pouting has been the real cause in the dip in form, which sounds entirely plausible considering Rooney's well-known maturity issues.
"I had a meeting with [Rooney] and he reiterated what his agent had said. He wanted to go. I said to him, 'Just remember one thing: respect this club.' I don't want any nonsense from you, respect your club."
Ferguson did an excellent job playing the club as the victim in Rooney's little mutiny, but if Rooney is really wanting out due to a lack of ambition and doubts over the future success of the club, he appears to have a point. United, appear to be locked into a serious cycle of debt, and there's no doubt that their recent trend has been downward. Replacing Christiano Ronaldo with Antonio Valencia is nobody's idea of an upgrade, and it now looks like their star is waning. Unlike Rooney, however, I have a significant amount of faith in Ferguson's ability to right the ship - he's done it before and he'll do it again.
Further complicating things is Colleen Rooney's desire to stay in England, which, if humoured, narrows down the choices of destination to exactly two - Manchester City and Chelsea are really the only teams in position to attract a player of Rooney's calibre. Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini were both remarkably circumspect when asked about the possibility of his joining their respective teams, but the players were more forthcoming: Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou both saying they'd welcome Rooney to the Chelsea fold if he was at all interested in coming.
There have been reports that Abramovich would be amenable to a significant bid and attendant contract offer (£200K+ per week) should United look to sell, and although the Blues lack the financial reserves of Manchester City, United may still prefer doing business with a team they respect as true rivals rather than suffer the embarrassment of losing their star player to their cross-town neighbours. Rooney to London is a real possibility, although there are other options for Chelsea to pursue down the right side, notably Ajax's Luis Suarez.