How gambling on success through spending more on players can come unstuck



By Tony Attwood

Back in 1955 Chelsea won the league.  In 1970 they won the FA Cup.  In 1997 they won the FA Cup again, and with a repeat in 2000 and a couple of League Cups over the years, things were looking up.    True, this wasn’t very many trophies for a club that entered the top league in 1907, but a few relegations on the way (the last in 1988) had slowed them down a bit.

But in 1997 they started winning things a bit more, and since then have knocked up five league titles and six FA Cups, plus the Champions League twice and the Europa League twice.   And let’s not be churlish, that’s a much better run that Arsenal have managed during that period. 

And interestingly both clubs have slipped on occasion: Chelsea to 12th last season (after a couple of trips down to 14th at the end of the 20th century) and Arsenal to 10th in the 1990s, and a couple of 8ths in more recent years.

So a few ups and downs for both clubs over the years, but there is still something that distinguishes the two clubs.   Or perhaps one might say, a couple of things.   For Chelsea have had more trophies than Arsenal in recent years.

Arsenal have had three league tiles and seven FA Cups this century, to Chelsea’s five league wins and six FA Cups (if we include 1999/2000) this century.   Plus those two Europas and two Champions League wins.   Yep Chelsea are certainly ahead.

Except… leaving aside the table this season and last season (for reasons of delicacy) Chelsea have a problem: money.

There was for example the situation in 2010 when they claimed to be almost debt free but were not.

Then again we ran the story recently that Chelsea had sold one of their huge debts to another company, which just happens to be owned by the same people who own Chelsea.  Which suggests a bit of fiddling the books.  We reached similar conclusions in 2017

As the Times said a couple of days back, “Chelsea’s wage bill soars to £404m as financial frailties are exposed” noting that and that the “Club does £76.5m property deal with sister company to try to avoid Premier League spending rules breach as salary costs surpass Manchester United and Liverpool.”

Now a review of operating losses in the Athletic shows Chelsea top of the loss-making chart in the 2022/23 season (the last year for which figures are available) with another £249m loss.  And to be clear that is not their debt – that is the loss that they made just in that season.

Also in trouble are Leicester (£152m loss), Aston Villa (£139m loss) and of course, as is eternally the case, Everton (£115m).

In fact, every Premier League club except made a loss that season including Arsenal (£39m) and Tottenham (£59m).  Indeed, if you have some money and want to throw it away, own a football club.  Unless the club is Brentford which made £4m profit.  Even Manchester City, (who in the past have been able to conjure up anything they want from a new specific sponsor that no one has previously heard of for a most unlikely commodity such as commercial tractors) lost £36m.

In concluding its article on Chelsea, the Athletic says, “To move forward, Chelsea must rely on prudence and development. They are not attributes they have shown in the last two years.”

But even then there is a problem.  While still very reasonably basking in the triumpuh of the Champions League victory in 2021 they sank in the course of three seasons from fourth to 12th in the League.   This season they are ninth with a goal difference of +3.  They have won just three out of their last nine league games.

More extraordinary is their player list.   11v11, which we often cite here, has a list of retained first-team players for each club in the Premier League.  Chelsea have over 60 (yes sixty) players on that list 35 of whom have actually appeared in a Chelsea shirt in a first team game.

Still I suppose they can sell some of them to reduce the losses..

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