Asia-bound Chelsea out to impress
Chelsea arrive in China on Monday to kick-off their pre-season Asian tour with Luiz Felipe Scolari keen to assess his squad and the players fighting to impress him. The Blues are expected to bring a virtually full-strength team including new signings Deco from Barcelona and Porto's Jose Bosingwa, as well as Frank Lampard who is still mulling a move to Inter Milan.
They touch down in this southern city with speculation rife that Brazilian star Kaka could also move to Stamford Bridge, although AC Milan denied reports Saturday of a world-record transfer worth 80 million pounds (100m euros, 160m dollars). If he moves the FIFA World Player of the Year will be reunited with a manager who handed him a Brazil debut in 2002 and then included him in the squad that went on to win the FIFA World Cup™ that year.
Speaking ahead of the tour to Guangzhou, Macau and Kuala Lumpur, captain John Terry said everyone knew they needed to fight for their place in the team. "We are all professionals, and with the new manager all of the players want to impress him to make sure we are a part of his plans," said the 27-year-old. There's no way we can take any of the games lightly. We have strong opposition and we need to be in the best condition possible for the start of the Premier League."
Scolari inherited the current squad from former managers Avram Grant and Jose Mourinho and so far only two players have been offloaded -- Hernan Crespo on a free transfer and Steve Sidwell to Aston Villa for 5.5 million pounds.
Shaun Wright-Phillips could follow them out the door with Harry Redknapp keen to have him at Fratton Park alongside Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. Striker Didier Drogba's future is also unclear, although Scolari has insisted that he wants Drogba and Lampard to stay as he attempts to wrest the Premier League title from Manchester United and win the UEFA Champions League.
Excitement in China
Chelsea are expected to play in front of sold out stadiums in Asia and Terry said visiting China, in particular, would be a major buzz in an Olympic year and at a time when sport in the sprawling country is on the up. "I am looking forward to being in China and playing in front of some capacity crowds," he said.
"I have never been to the country before, but I know football is developing quickly there, and that the fans really appreciate the sport. There is a real buzz about Asian and Chinese sport in particular with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it will be nice for Chelsea to be a part of that excitement."
Chelsea play Guangzhou Pharmaceutical on Tuesday before taking on Chinese Super League team Chengdu Blades in Macau on July 26, with the focus on raising funds for victims of the earthquake that hit Sichuan province on May 12. They round off the Asian leg in Kuala Lumpur on July 29 before travelling to Russia for the Railways Cup, where they will play Locomotive Moscow, with the possibility of then meeting either Sevilla or AC Milan.
With the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid already cashing in on the lucrative Asian market, chief executive Peter Kenyon told reporters the region had long been on Chelsea's radar. "We have been to America for the past four seasons so we were always going to Asia at some point because the Premier League and Chelsea are hugely popular there," he said.
"There are a whole host of reasons why this time it was Asia but as always football preparation is the main priority and we are delighted with the level of opposition we will be facing."