Deadline day in January and the dealmakers were all in position at the swish hotel in Milan chosen by Serie A as the nerve-centre for negotiations during the closing hours of the transfer market.
Italian super-agent Vincenzo Morabito was present with former AC Milan full back Luca Antonini, and Matteo Materazzi, brother of former Inter Milan centre half Marco, all working on a move for Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, 33.
Inter was the preferred destination for the Frenchman, less than a five-hour drive from his hometown in Grenoble, a reunion with Antonio Conte and a two-and-a-half year contract was drawn up worth £9million after tax.
They were prepared to pay £4.5m plus bonuses for a player who was out of the team and out of contract in six months and free to talk to clubs overseas.
Lazio retained a strong interest and Jose Mourinho wanted to lure Giroud to Tottenham, although that move had little appeal for those at Stamford Bridge.
These were the final suitors at the end of a month also featuring contact from West Ham, Newcastle and Lyon. At Chelsea’s training ground in Surrey, Giroud made it clear he wanted to leave. Director and negotiator-in-chief Marina Granovskaia was trying to persuade RB Leipzig to sell Timo Werner in mid-season.
Frank Lampard had made his demands for more attacking options but he would have to wait for Werner and, as the clock ticked down, those trying to make things happen in Milan were informed that the Chelsea head coach had vetoed Giroud’s exit.
Six months on and Giroud will step out at Wembley Stadium in the midst of a golden glow, with a goal on each of his last six starts and seven in 10 appearances since the lockdown.
This glorious purple patch includes winners against Aston Villa and Norwich, and the opening goal of the game on four occasions, at the vanguard as Lampard’s team qualified for the Champions League and reached the FA Cup final.
Giroud has become indispensable — a stark contrast to the situation in January. ‘I saw myself far away from Chelsea,’ he said after his move collapsed. ‘I saw six complicated months ahead.’
Lampard should be applauded for digging in to protect the interests of his dressing room, but it does beg the question of why he barely used the striker in the first half of the season.
Tammy Abraham was in the groove, prolific in early season, but there was a time when Giroud fell behind Michy Batshuayi in the pecking order for an appearance from the bench. In five months from mid-September he played only twice.
‘Destiny,’ said Giroud, a spiritual man with a strong Christian faith. Perhaps it is true. Perhaps it really was meant to be as he prepares to face Arsenal, his former club, at Wembley, where he has never lost an FA Cup tie.
He has won the competition four times. In 2014, his back-heel created the winning goal for Aaron Ramsey against Hull. In 2015, against Aston Villa, he came on to score the fourth. In 2017, he set up Ramsey again for the winner and denied Chelsea the Double.
Having joined Chelsea for £18m in January 2018, part of the three-way shuffle which took Batshuayi on loan to Borussia Dortmund and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund to Arsenal, he won the competition again.
Still a lucky charm in the FA Cup, he scored in the semi-final against Southampton and led the line for 89 minutes of the final against Manchester United before he gave way to Alvaro Morata. Win it again on Saturday, and Giroud will join an elite group with at least five winners’ medals. Only Ashley Cole, another who crossed London from Arsenal, has more with seven. Giroud, like Cole, embraced the subtle difference in mentality at Stamford Bridge.
‘You don’t have time at Chelsea,’ he told Sportsmail last year, ahead of the Europa League final. ‘You have to be ready quickly because in terms of trophies it is the best club in England for the last 10 years.’
He added: ‘I feel like my blood is blue’ and, ominously, that he always enjoyed playing against his old teams, before scoring the opener, a diving header against Arsenal in a 4-1 win in Baku.
Giroud has impressed with his maturity and understanding of his craft. ‘Exemplary professionalism,’ Lampard called it. He wanted to leave but he was not about to sulk his way out and remained supportive to those in the team ahead of him.
During lockdown, Chelsea triggered a clause to extend his deal by a year, to cover the restart fixtures and to stop him leaving on a free when the season ends.
Lampard will have Werner at his disposal for the next campaign. ‘I’m not naive, Werner did not arrive to sit on the bench,’ Giroud told L’Equipe, and he knows interest is strong from elsewhere.
He will be 34 in September and if Chelsea decide to sell the dealmakers will get their deal, but why would anyone sell a striker who is improving with age?