(CNN) -- A knee injury kept Arjen Robben out of Chelsea's Community Shield clash with Manchester United at Wembley on Sunday, but that may have suited both player and club.
Robben -- courted by Real Madrid -- may have played his last game in a Chelsea shirt.
With the 23-year-old Dutch international's Stamford Bridge future still up in the air after weeks of transfer gossip linking him with a move to Real Madrid -- and with new French winger Florent Malouda impressing with a goal despite his side's penalty shootout defeat -- it seems almost certain he has made his final appearance in Chelsea's blue shirt.
Robben arrived at Chelsea as a $24 million signing at the beginning of the Jose Mourinho era in 2004, helping the club to win back-to-back Premier League titles and earning a reputation as a devastatingly direct winger capable of breaking open defences with slaloming runs and a deadly left foot.
But with injuries and tactical rotations regularly keeping him out of the side, Robben has struggled to establish himself as a Chelsea mainstay over the past two seasons.
Having also been vilified for play-acting and with negotiations over a new contract stalled over Robben's demands for an increase on his $180,000-a-week basic pay, a fresh start in Spain may well be the impetus his career needs.
For Real, coming off the back of a hard-fought league title-winning season, Robben would add some pace and swagger to a slightly lumpen forward line that compares badly with Barcelona's attacking quartet of Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o.
"Of course Madrid's interest makes me happy," Robben admitted this week to Spanish newspaper As.
"I do not know when a deal will be reached. I would like to send a message to the Madrid fans, but I can't until my future is sorted."
Chelsea, however, appear to have little intention of giving him up cheaply. In a game of transfer market brinksmanship apparently provoked by Madrid's efforts to unsettle Chelsea's German midfielder Michael Ballack, the London club this week reportedly hiked Robben's price tag to a massive $54 million -- far beyond the $40 million Real apparently had in mind.
Yet few clubs are more adept than Madrid at getting their way in the transfer market, and the Spaniards may yet prove persuasive negotiators.
Earlier this month Real coach Bernd Schuster reiterated his desire to bring Robben to the Bernabeu while admitting his fate may not be decided until the final hours before the August transfer window slams shut.
"It could be expensive," said Schuster. "It is necessary to go slowly. We need to be prepared to make signings until the final day of the window. I would be much happier if they were here. The signing of Robben is very important for us." E-mail to a friend