By Tony Attwood
Last November, Football.london, told us that Chelsea could spend £241m in the winter transfer window while remaining inside the financial fair play restrictions. It seemed a huge amount of money, but of course I always have complete confidence in Football London as a source and the ability of FFP to keep matters under control. (Something in that last sentence might not be true).
Arsenal spent £132m net in that window; Chelsea in contrast spent £3.1m.
And for the last set of accounts from Chelsea revealed a £145.6million loss and of course the eternal note attached to the accounts to the effect that Chelsea is “reliant on Fordstam Limited for its continued financial support”.
Fordstam is the company owned by Abramovich which has constantly kept the club running at its recent level, buying top players, paying high wages and sometimes selling players off as well. They haven’t done too well in the league of late by their recent standards (3rd, two 4ths and 5th) but they won the Champions League so I suppose that’s ok.
Now the fans of Chelsea might well be looking backwards to the past policy and expecting, or at least hoping for, “more of the same please,” as the club changes hands.
But there is a second model for running a club that could be adopted at this point, and that is the Glazerian model. The Glazers you might recall bought Manchester United with borrowed money, and then once installed as owners borrowed money from the club at no interest in order to pay off the loans taken out to buy the club. (As with all crazy financial dealings within capitalism this process is given a fancy name so that the uninitiated just think it is an ok process – in this case, it is called a leveraged buyout).
So although Chelsea might well be sold “debt free” it will still be sold, and the estimated price is around £2.5 billion. Given that Abramovich paid £140m in 2003 that’s a fairly nifty profit for a debt free enterprise even if the ground isn’t up to much. No wonder he’s not bothered about getting his loans back if he’s making that sort of profit, although of course we only have the media’s word for all this).
But after spending £2.5 billion (or even £2 billion to take a lower estimate) to buy the club I wonder how much more the new owners will want to put into buying players. Which is why I mention the Glazerian model especially given the smallness of their ground, and its lack of the sort of corporate facilities that can be used all the week through which Arsenal Stadium has.
Indeed as the Guardian pointed out, even the billionaire duo of Hansjorg Wyss and Todd Boehly are unlikely to follow Abramovich’s example in terms of financial support.
In the interim Chelsea have an identity problem – that being the identity of the new owners – and thus a lack of certainty as to what sort of club Chelsea will become. Uncertainty is what players don’t like – top players like to join clubs doing well and which have clear continuity. That’s why Arsenal have found buying certain players so tough, after having three managers in quick succession.
Furthermore, Abramovich’s name was also a very much a positive factor at Chelsea when it came to recruiting players, because with him in the background, negotiations over salaries and bonuses were relatively benign.
Likewise, at Chelsea, any manager who wasn’t up to scratch could be moved on at once because there were always funds to pay off the rest of the salary and pay even more to the next one. And there was the stability of having our old chum Petr Cech (technical and performance adviser) at the club and the Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia.
But there was also a build-up of a dodgy reputation. The departure of Conte led to two employment tribunal cases, both of which Chelsea lost on the grounds of unfair dismissal. Then there was the infamous Eva Carneiro case which didn’t do the image of Chelsea much good either. Dr Carneiro ran claims against Chelsea and its manager for constructive dismissal, harassment and sex discrimination and was offered £1.2 million to settle the case. She turned it down but later settled – the general assumption was that she got substantially more – Chelsea willing to pay in order to avoid further revelations in court.
Then there was the case in which Chelsea were banned from signing players for two transfer windows as Fifa found them guilty of breaching the rules on the signing of players aged under 18. The cases involved 29 (yes twenty-nine) underage players. And this was not the first time they were in trouble in this regard.
The club were eventually fined around half a million pounds and told to regularise their policies, (policies which had been highlighted several times on Untold you might recall). Chelsea denied everything although their academy had been under investigation for potential transfer rule breaches since 2016.
But despite all these tribunals and court cases, Chelsea have had one enormous ally since 2003: the English media. For what the media have been very good at doing is isolating each case so that no general picture of misdemeanours arises and the owner looks to have had in place jolly decent chaps doing a very good job – which they have been in terms of winning stuff. It’s just those pesky regulations that have been a bit of a problem.
Still, in the UK, with the media on your side there’s no need to worry. The question is, can the current Chelsea owner sell that media goodwill onto the new owner? That’s a more tricky one. Quite a bit of wining and dining by flunkeys will be seen, I would imagine. It’s going to be a good time to be a football correspondent for a major “outlet”.
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- Why, with football, it is important to ask what is not being reported
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