Dries Mertens is keeping his options open with his current Napoli contract due to expire on June 30, with Chelsea and Inter both interested in signing the Belgium international forward.
The 32-year-old was close to renewing his Napoli contract before the coronavirus-enforced shutdown brought football across Europe and much of the world to a halt. Negotiations between Mertens and his club are now at a standstill and, with many of the continent's clubs facing uncertain financial futures, out-of-contract stars like Mertens are expected to be in increasing demand.
Frank Lampard is a known admirer of Mertens and Chelsea even tried to sign him on a short-term deal in January to refresh their options in attack.
The Blues were unable to find a viable solution to sign Mertens with the Belgian reluctant to leave as he approached becoming the all-time top scorer for the club.
The striker matched the goalscoring record set by Marek Hamsik by netting in the Champions League match against Barcelona but he is still keen on earning the record outright.
He is also seen as an icon amongst the Napoli fans and he wants to maintain a good image despite his recent fraught relations with club chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis.
The pair patched up their grievances in a lunch meeting ahead of the lockdown on March 1 with De Laurentiis having bought his forward's match shirt from Napoli's game against Barcelona at a charity auction.
"Glad to have won, on behalf of Napoli, Dries' shirt from Napoli-Barcelona, in the charity auction #jestovicinoate organised by the Cannavaro Ferrara Foundation," De Laurentiis said on Twitter. "It is an important shirt that will remain at home in Naples and a contribution for those who need it in a difficult moment."
Napoli were keen to renew Mertens' contract but the coronavirus situation has complicated matters. Budgets are squeezed even at the biggest clubs, leaving players with contracts expiring in strong negotiating positions.
Chelsea had only wanted to sign Mertens on a short-term deal in the hope of convincing a younger star to join in the summer with Dortmund's Jadon Sancho topping a list that also included RB Leipzig's Timo Werner and Lyon's Moussa Dembele.
One sticking point to complete a deal for the Blues is that they typically only offer one-year contracts for players aged 30 and over, and Mertens will turn 33 in May.
Inter are among Chelsea's competition for the forward, who has scored 12 goals and added six assists in 29 appearances in the 2019-20 season. Mertens will also seek assurances from any club that he will be a regular starter.
Football agent Vincenzo Morabito has claimed that Chelsea are especially eager to get a deal with Mertens over the line but it is understood that Lampard hasn't been in contact with the forward since January.
“Mertens had originally said he wanted to stay at Napoli, but then his lawyer started offering him to various international clubs, meaning something changed between the player and the Azzurri,” Morabito told Radio Kiss Kiss Napoli.
“I know this because I was working on the Olivier Giroud issue when he was meant to leave Chelsea in January, with a lucrative contract lined up for Mertens.
“Chelsea have now extended Giroud’s contract as a precaution, but they are very interested in Mertens and Lampard is calling him almost every day. I can see Mertens going to Chelsea.”
However, it remains possible that Olivier Giroud could leave in the summer after the club exercised a clause to extend his deal by another year with Inter and Lazio among those who were previously interested in signing him on a free transfer.