22 February, 2008

That’s a Lot of Wonga

Since joining Chelsea in June 2003, for better or for worse, Roman Abramovich has changed the Premier League. He brought in hot cutting-edge talent and a prodigal manager to marshal them, but despite the seemingly endless supply of money, still the Champions League crown eludes him. Figures released today showed that in the 4 and a half years Abramovich has been at the helm, he has spent a frankly staggering £578million trying to make Chelsea the biggest club in Europe, which works out at an inconceivable £204,931 a day and even £8,539 per hour.

This massive influx has meant that Chelsea’s spending potential has sky-rocketed, significantly boosting transfer fees and wage bills not just within the Blues, but elsewhere in the country too. Similarly, the all consuming approach that this money has handed to Avram Grant and Jose Mourinho before him, has led to many talents from home and abroad choosing vast pay packets and sporadic appearances at Chelsea, over lower income and regular football elsewhere. Often you even get the impression that guys like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Steve Sidwell were only bought in the first place so that they won’t go to another team and become a potential threat. The conclusion we can come to from all this is that sure, you can buy the Premier League, but to be very top of the European pile requires something more than just money, something unquanitifiable like class and passion.

With such a ridiculous bank balance, Abramovich is unlikely to run out of money for quite some time, despite still recording an overall loss of £74.8million last year, but how long will his interest be maintained if Chelsea fall short of the Champions League again this season? While still in all four competitions, no-one really cares about the Carling Cup and to be honest, the Premier League title looks already to be a two horse race between Arsenal and Manchester United, so would even an FA Cup win be satisfactory enough this year given the invested funds? The standard of Chelsea’s transfer policy tends to ignore future re-sale, focusing on buying players in the their prime at mid to late 20s, so it won’t be long before the likes of Ballack, Carvalho and Shevchenko will need replacing. Rumours of Ronaldinho and Kaka coming to Stamford Bridge again fit in with this pattern; fantastic players without doubt, but while their title rivals focus their big spending on young raw talent, Chelsea seem to be missing a trick by living only season to season. The reason for this is of course that a businessman of Abromivich’s standing requires results, and patience is presumably not one of his virtues, as the Mourinho saga earlier this season showed.

Chelsea’s youth program is underwhelming to say the least, with Scott Sinclair about the only one in recent memory to have actually climbed out of this and challenge for the first team. Again, you look at Arsenal for example, and they are constantly sourcing players at 16 and under, putting teams together as early as possible and instilling Wenger’s style of football into them. Their Carling Cup team, so successful in the last two seasons, has been almost entirely promising British players, and youngsters drafted in from abroad. We’ve seen many rise to first team football, such as Hoyte and Denilson, through commitment and hard graft, while hardly ever does Wenger buy an established player to simply slot straight into the first team.

Chelsea Chief Executive Peter Kenyon seems to have recognized this, and yesterday as he played down any interest for the two aforementioned Brazilian maestros, said this of potential summer transfers: “It’s fundamentally got to be somebody who will contribute to the team and have a long-term view.” Now watch them go blow more than £45million on Karim Benzema, just to trump Man United…