Chelsea are reportedly at risk of missing out on Red Bull Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund, who is now expected to stay in Austria.
The 45-year-old has supposedly been identified by co-owner Todd Boehly as his leading candidate for the vacant role after Marina Granovskaia‘s summer departure.
Recent reports had claimed that the Blues were making good progress in their efforts to hire Freund, who had supposedly verbally agreed to join the West London club.
However, Salzburg CEO Stephan Reiter has now denied that an agreement is in place, telling Sky Sports Austria: “I can definitely rule that out, neither Chelsea nor Christoph Freund spoke to me or the club management about something like that.
“Christoph recently signed a contract with us until 2026, which applies to him as well as to players, managers or coaches.”
Now, The Athletic claims that Freund is leaning towards staying at Salzburg, and Chelsea will therefore be forced to scope out other candidates for the sporting director’s job.
Optimism that the Austrian would arrive at Stamford Bridge is said to have been “premature”, and Salzburg can play hardball in negotiations given Freund’s contract situation.
As a result, Boehly and co are preparing to work down their list of potential sporting directors, with Freund earmarked as the top candidate after he refused to rule out a move to London.
“Chelsea is a huge club in transition. I can’t say exactly what will happen in the next few weeks and months,” Freund told Sky Sports Austria after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Salzburg in the Champions League last week.
“You should never rule anything out in football and Chelsea are such a huge club. But I’m sports director in Salzburg and I really enjoy it.”
Freund has spent 16 years on the books at Salzburg and was promoted to his sports director job in 2015, during which he has unearthed a wealth of top talents such as Erling Braut Haaland, Sadio Mane and Dayot Upamecano.
Salzburg have won seven consecutive Austrian Bundesliga titles with Freund as sporting director, and he also revealed that his previous contact with the Blues centred around striker Benjamin Sesko, who will instead join RB Leipzig in 2023.
“I’ve had exchanges with Chelsea from time to time. We spoke more often a month or two ago because they were interested in [Benjamin] Sesko,” Freund added.
“The new owners are interested in how we do it with young players, how we integrate them into the first team. But you do that again and again with other clubs – that’s it.”
Chelsea were also linked with moves for RB Leipzig’s Oliver Mintzlaff and Paris Saint-Germain’s Luis Campos, but the latter has poured cold water on such speculation.
Meanwhile, both Chelsea and Mintzlaff are understood to have reached a mutual agreement not to progress negotiations, and the Blues’ search for a new sporting director could now take weeks to reach a positive conclusion.
Chelsea’s Champions League stalemate with Salzburg was Graham Potter‘s first game in charge of the club, and the Blues will return to Premier League action against Crystal Palace on October 1 following the international break.