Birmingham City and Aston Villa were last night given encouragement in their pursuit of Scott Parker when Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho gave the clearest indication yet the midfielder will leave the Premiership champions this summer.
With Blues, Villa and Everton all monitoring the 24-year-old midfielder, Mourinho's admission that Parker craves regular first team football could precipitate the England international's transfer.
Everton have already made public their intention to make a £6 million offer for the former Charlton Athletic player, who has failed to establish himself at Chelsea since leaving The Valley for £10 million in January 2004.
But both Blues boss Steve Bruce and Villa manager David O'Leary definitely want to sign Parker as well.
Mourinho has held talks with Parker and made it clear Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard are his firstchoice midfield partnership.
And although Mourinho is reluctant to lose Parker, he suggests he will not stand in Parker's way if the player wants to leave to improve his chances of playing for England at next year's World Cup in Germany.
Mourinho said: "For a young player like him [ Parker] with the ambition that he has, it is normal that he wants to play regularly.
"He wants to be in the national team and he only can be in the national team if he plays regularly. He wants to improve and although I want to keep him, I understand players."
Tottenham and Newcastle are also understood to be interested in signing Parker, whose preferred option is apparently to remain in London with his family.
But despite Chelsea enjoying the backing of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Mourinho is anxious the Stamford Bridge club either recoup most of their £10 million outlay for Parker or loan him out for next season.
Mourinho added: "Parker loves everything around him in Chelsea but he wants to play more.
"At this moment, Makelele looks unbeatable and I don't think he [Parker] is ready to wait.
"If he is ready to wait it is fantastic for Chelsea because he is a fantastic boy and a very good player.
"If he is not ready to wait and he just wants to play and play and play and play, we have to think about it."
Were Chelsea to cash in on Parker or loan him out, Blues, who have forged a good rapport with the London club's hierarchy after two separate loan moves for Mikael Forssell, would be optimistic of getting their man.
Villa, who took Carlton Cole on loan from Stamford Bridge last season, also have considerable resources at their disposal.
However, aside from reaching a compromise on Parker's estimated £60,000 a week salary, neither Midland club would be able to offer Parker the incentive of Champions' League football which Everton, who finished fourth last term, can.