Ashley Cole broke down in tears as he, Frank Lampard and John Terry saluted the arena during the Chelsea players' end-of-season lap of appreciation, and José Mourinho confirmed the club intend to take stock over the next few weeks before determining whether the experienced trio are to prolong their careers at Stamford Bridge.
Talks have been continuing with the representatives of the England men, who have 1,609 appearances for Chelsea between them but are out of contract on 1 July, over new one-year deals. Yet while Terry and Lampard are expected to stay, albeit on reduced terms, Cole's future appears less certain, with the 33-year-old having started only 14 Premier League games this season after losing his place to César Azpilicueta. There is interest, too, in signing the Atlético Madrid full-back Filipe Luis.
Cole started the goalless draw against Norwich City, a result that effectively wrecked Chelsea's lingering hopes of regaining the title while also seriously damaging the visitors' chances of remaining in the division. Afterwards the left-back, Lampard and Terry peeled away from the squad to applaud the home support in the Matthew Harding stand, with their emotion clear. "Again, they are with the club on their future," said Mourinho, who has stated the case for the three to be retained. "I think they will play here [for Chelsea] again. I think so.
"But now it's time to wait a little. The summer is a long summer for us. For you, the media, with the World Cup, it's a different story. For the players involved in the World Cup it's a different story. But for us, as a club, it's a long time to be calm and to sit and to discuss and to analyse options and the market and possibilities. It's a long summer for us."
Mourinho described his side's first-half showing as "lazy, slow, no pressure, never pressing an opponent" as they endured a third successive home game without a win, a display he suggested was largely due to a sense of deflation following their midweek elimination from the Champions League to Atlético Madrid.
"When you lose a semi-final and you know that you are not realistically in the title race, too, the mental energy disappears, the focus disappears, and you start thinking more about 'what next' than what you have to do now," he said. "That was reflected in the first half. We did enough to win after that, but we didn't."
Asked whether that was born of familiar shortcomings in front of goal – his team managed 23 shots but only four on target – Mourinho concurred. "Of course, yes. Our strikers are good strikers but our players lack some specific qualities. They are not the kind who, with five square metres and three or four people around, can dribble and find the space to shoot. But they are good players. They did everything they could in the season to help. In a competition full of good teams and a Champions League against the best teams in the world, which is not the case in the Europa League, the boys did a good job. A job that doesn't make us completely happy. We want more. But it's a base.
"They tried everything, with a couple of 'festivals' we had during the season … [a reference to his dissatisfaction with the performances of the officials in the recent defeats to Aston Villa and Sunderland] Without those 'festivals' it would have been a better season too. But we could have been better in some matches. We could have done better against Crystal Palace, or killing matches at Everton, Newcastle, Stoke. Matches we lost where we had the games under control but didn't kill them and we were killed. But it's a very dangerous league. We were always there, never outside the top four or outside the title race from day one while important teams did not reach their minimum objectives. A very dangerous league."
It is likely to have proved too perilous for Norwich, whose fate could effectively be sealed if Sunderland draw at home to West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night, a result that would leave City requiring an outlandish swing in goal difference on the final afternoon when they host Arsenal. This was a first point in nine away games, and the first reward of Neil Adams' tenure as interim manager. "I'm immensely proud," he said. "I thought it was a phenomenal performance. We had a gameplan and the players executed it virtually to perfection. I'd have liked a bit more of an attacking threat, but we had a stonewall penalty denied us in the first half. Had we got that we might have been leaving Stamford Bridge with a result. I've had a look and it's pretty clear: definitely a penalty.
"Now we keep our fingers crossed and hope for a few results. If we go into the Arsenal match needing to win at Carrow Road, that's all we can hope for. If that's the case, we'll give it every go. I was here on Wednesday watching these guys play in a Champions League semi-final, that's what we're up against. But I'm really proud of the performance. We shouldn't be where we are. There's a good enough team here not to be in this situation. But, today, I'm really proud with what we've achieved."