MICHAEL ESSIEN looks set for a quicker-than-expected return to full fitness - and that could leave Chelsea in an African Nations Cup wrangle with Ghana.
Manager Jose Mourinho feared an extended absence after the midfielder was carried off on a stretcher with ankle-ligament damage during last week's 3-1 win at West Ham.
Mourinho suggested that Essien's injury was so severe there was no chance of him travelling to Egypt to take part in Ghana's African Nations Cup campaign, even though the Blues had previously been close to cutting a deal which would have seen the player return after just two matches.
But Essien has already made a surprise return to the Chelsea training headquarters at Cobham, leaving the rehabilitation room and gym to do running and stretching work outside, hinting that he could be back in first-team contention within a week.
That, though, could see the Ghanaian FA intervening, demanding that the player joins up with coach Ratomir Dujkovic's squad to take a full part in the tournament.
Under FIFA rules, Ghana can demand Essien joins them in Egypt or ban him from playing for Chelsea for the duration of the tournament.
Chelsea had been happy to let Essien go before his injury, but Mourinho may be less content now in case he aggravates the problem while on international duty and away from the Blues' medical team.