Chelsea have failed in their attempt to sign Yoshinori Muto after the Japan international rejected an offer of a five-year contract.
Muto, 22, is now close to joining Mainz 05, who are understood to have agreed a fee of €3 million (£2.16m) with FC Tokyo.
The Premier League champions' interest in Muto followed an agreement of a record shirt sponsorship deal with Yokohama Rubber.
The deal is worth a basic €278 million over five years, according to club sources, with the tyre manufacturer keen that Chelsea recruit a young, marketable talent from Japan to facilitate advertising there.
Chelsea agreed a transfer fee with FC Tokyo last month, but are now expected to look elsewhere in the J.League for a suitable recruit. “In modern management you cannot close completely the door to a little bit of commercial interests,” said Jose Mourinho when news of his club's bid for Muto emerged.
“But at the same time a football club is always a football club and a top football club has only space for very good players or at least very good prospects.”
While Muto stated that he was “flattered” by Chelsea's approach, he had serious reservations about moving to a European club where he was unlikely to receive much – if any – playing time. The recent hardening of UK work permit rules raised concerns that he would not be granted a visa to play in the Premier League and would be loaned out to one of Chelsea's overseas feeder clubs.
Muto has been scoring freely as a central striker for FC Tokyo this season, but is yet to fully establish himself for his national team, where he has usually been deployed as a left winger. New Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic advised Muto to prioritise on-field experience ahead of the prestige of a new employer's name.
“I do not know what kind of offer Chelsea made,” said Halilhodzic. “But If you wish to improve yourself as a footballer you should find a European club where you can actually play."