Ashley Cole is ready to walk out on Chelsea at the end of the season after failing to agree terms on a new contract even as Manchester United and Real Madrid are ready to pounce if the former Arsenal defender exits Stamford Bridge.
Cole is adamant he will not sign the one-year extension on offer and is preparing to speak with foreign clubs, including Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, in January.
The England defender, back in Roy Hodgson’s team for the World Cup qualifier against Poland on Tuesday night, is a victim of Chelsea’s new policy for players over the age of 30.
If Cole, 31, and Frank Lampard, who is also out of contract next summer, quit Stamford Bridge, it will be confirmation that Roman Abramovich is breaking up his Champions League-winning team.
The Russian told the players they were directly responsible for the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas last March and warned them their futures were on the line before they went on to win the FA Cup and European Cup.
Despite their success, Abramovich’s threat appears to be real after the club’s failure to match the expectations of Cole and Lampard, 34, during talks.
Chelsea only offered Didier Drogba a one-year extension last summer, but he quit after failing to reach an agreement.
Cole, whose availability next summer has also alerted Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, has played in 188 out of a possible 235 games in the Premier League since signing from Arsenal six years ago.
He missed the majority of those games in his first two seasons because of problems with his ankles, but he has been reliable in the past four years.