Chelsea are hard to like. Like an obnoxious banker on a night out with his mates, they piss money up the wall with a complete lack of self-awareness. How could they, we ask, how could they when Portsmouth are on the brink? It’s sickening. To those of us without such wealth, Chelsea lack class. Ah yes, class – that good old British obsession with social status. Citing their lack of class means we can suggest their behaviour is vulgar and not becoming of a great football club. But, it’s also a way to disguise our envy of their wealth.
Chelsea did not create the policy of bankrolling success; Blackburn Rovers laid those foundations with a much more unlikely triumph. But, that was the mid-1990s. The Premier League has been on an upward trajectory ever since in terms of income and expenditure. If the Premier League hadn’t become the glitziest, neon-lit global hyper-league that it resembles today, the likes of Roman Abramovich wouldn’t be in it. Yes, it’s terrible that Portsmouth face extinction, but only the most naïve would assume the Premier League will slow down as a consequence.
The flagship for the modern-era is Manchester United, the club that refuse to surrender their position at the top, despite the enormous financial handicap now imposed on them. How much longer they can maintain their success is a moot point. The reality is that since Arsenal’s triumph in 2003/04, the only method on the table for competing with United is to throw almost limitless supplies of cash at the problem.
If it wasn’t for Abramovich’s investment, United would be have chalked up a sixth consecutive title last year. What would that do for the global appeal of our most beloved Premier League? For Roman’s investment, a disruption was achieved, but sustaining success depends on everything remaining constant. Football doesn’t work like that. Manchester City have emerged, with a fatter wallet and a bigger stadium. In contrast, Chelsea’s project suddenly looks a bit dated, a bit mid-2000s.
Chelsea’s board will point to the books and crow about revenues at record highs. The club has a global profile it could not have imagined ten years ago, touring North America and Asia to play exhibition games in front of packed stadiums. But, they’re bluffing. Chelsea continues to operate a loss, and doesn’t generate anywhere near enough money to sustain a title winning squad without additional investment.
So, what’s the end game? The goal posts keep moving, and right now Chelsea are further away from winning the Premier League, let alone the Champions League, than they were two years ago when Carlo Ancelotti led them to second place and was promptly dismissed. If Abramovich simply wanted a good side capable of winning silverware, he would have kept the Italian. But, we don’t know what he wants. The rumour is always that he wants the kind of jaw dropping, showbiz football that Barcelona play (don’t we all?). In an age when the Champions League rules, Abramovich’s plans may indeed have been warped to the point they have become so unrealistic that only a masochist would try to deliver them.
But, in his defence, he’s spent a billion quid. That’s right, one billion pounds. On a football club. Of course he wants to see some decent football. He’s not supposed to be some benign old father figure, helping young managers and footballers to make their way in life. He’s paying them a fucking fortune so he wants results, and he wants them yesterday, not in three years time. Anyone who goes to work for him must know that. Three year plans? Ha! If he wanted to wait three years he could have hired an up and coming manager from the Blue Square Premier. When he hired Andre Villas Boas, he hired someone who’d just delivered a treble for FC Porto and was talked about as the next great European coach. He expected them to be higher than fifth in March, and given the pretty average standard of the Premier League this season, so did most people. Villas Boas failed to match expectations, he was fired.
It might seem like a grotesque way to run a football club, but to paraphrase an old lefty-liberal cliché, Chelsea are the product of a society we created. I can hear groans coming from the right, but in a league eating itself to death with greed, Chelsea are the logical conclusion.