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For Chelsea FC, old ‘things’ have passed away

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
24 June 2022   |   4:27 am
We are reflecting on one of the most successful football clubs in the world that is the current holder of World Clubs Cup and the immediate holder of European Clubs Cup known as Chelsea FC of England..

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 18, 2022 shows Chelsea FC’s emblem at their home stadium Stamford Bridge in London. – Chelsea FC said on May 6, 2022 a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly would acquire the London club after agreeing terms in a deal worth £4.25 billion (USD 5.2 billion). (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

We are reflecting on one of the most successful football clubs in the world that is the current holder of World Clubs Cup and the immediate holder of European Clubs Cup known as Chelsea FC of England, the home of football. We will return to talk about this football phenomenon known as the Blues but let us look at football from its etymological roots or historicity.

From empirical evidence and basically from my own perspective, there are only about three forces that rule the world namely-religion, football and then politics. 

But of the three factors that shape the world, there is obviously only one that has more of positives than negatives and that is football.

In listing football I also by inference mean to mention other competitive and very rich sports. If you go out on the streets and randomly ask people to name where football originated, the likelihood is that except you coincidentally meets someone who graduated in physical and health education from college (they are so few these days), not a lot of those you will meet know the exact place of birth of football. 

Many still think Brazil is the home of football by origin. Other may ignorantly say Nigeria because Nigerians play a lot of football all over the place except that due to rogue tendencies of the football administrators, football is not yet a profitable and competitive business enterprise in Nigeria. Brazil is much more business minded officially in football administration.  

This generally accepted misperception that Brazil is where football originated came about because Brazilians due to dint of resilience, constant practices and consistency in implementation of football friendly national policies, has assumed the position of the highest number of people in the world who play football optimally.

Contrary to this popular misperception about Brazil as home of football, Encyclopedia Britannica told us that Modern football originated in Britain in the 19th century. 

It says since before medieval times, “folk football” games had been played in towns and villages according to local customs and with a minimum of rules. Industrialization and urbanization, which reduced the amount of leisure time and space available to the working class, combined with a history of legal prohibitions against particularly violent and destructive forms of folk football to undermine the game’s status from the early 19th century onward. However, football was taken up as a winter game between residence houses at public (independent) schools such as Winchester, Charterhouse, and Eton. 

These much we can take from the intellectual historians who documented the historicity of Football as a competitive game. 

But going forward, we will establish the fact that football is big business. According to Sportico, the average value of a Premiership club is £960 million. However, the big six clubs- Manchester United, Chelsea FC, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham, are worth £2.747 billion. The other 14 clubs combined are worth the same figure.

We have marveled at how so rich football is, but this piece is about Chelsea FC and our concentration is on how the Russian billionaire owner Mr. Abramovich bought into Chelsea FC and left a lot of improvements and then was forced to sell it to a new owner due to emerging developments in Russia with particular reference to the aggression against Ukraine by Russian President, Vladimir Putin. 

We will project if the good old days of Chelsea FC in terms of Fame and fortune are over or not.  This is so because Roman Abramovich’s 19-year spell as Chelsea owner was over after the club announced that the takeover led by Todd Boehly had been completed.

A statement published on chelseafc.com began: “Roman Abramovich has completed the sale of Chelsea Football Club and related companies to an investment group led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.

“This sale process commenced on March 2, when Mr. Abramovich announced his intention to sell the Club after 19 successful years of ownership. In selling the Club, Mr. Abramovich stipulated that the new owner must be a good steward of the Club, the net proceeds of the sale must be donated to charity, and that he would not seek the repayment of loans made to affiliates of the Club.”

It is understood that Boehly and Co committed £4.25 billion to buy Chelsea – the third most successful club in Premier League history.

The sale price was £2.5 billion, while there is an agreement in place for £1.75 billion to be invested over 10 years.
Historically, Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government on March 10 for his alleged links to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Those sanctions prevented Abramovich from receiving any of the proceeds from the sale.
The sanctions had also affected the day-to-day running of Chelsea FC as spending caps were applied and ticket sales restricted. 

But the club can now resume normal operations, meaning they will be free to sell and sign players during the summer transfer window.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel can now start planning for next season. 

However, it is understood that for Chelsea FC, the good old days of unrestrained investments in transfers and procurement of big time players under the former owner is as good as gone even if we admit that the new owner was compelled to make huge deposits for enhanced development of the club before it was sold to him. 
Chelsea’s statement went on to reveal that the club had received over 250 enquiries from interested parties after Abramovich announced his intention to sell.

Twelve “credible bids” were later made, before the Boehly and Clearlake Capital consortium was chosen as the preferred bidder.

Boehly added in a second statement: “We are honoured to become the new custodians of Chelsea Football Club.’’ On the improvements by the former Russian owner, a reporter said it all started in anonymity and ended… The reporter said almost nobody in football had heard of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich before he acquired Chelsea in 2003, but he became the most successful and controversial Premier League owner of the last two decades before the UK government forced him to sell the club because of his links with Russia President Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich spent more than £2 billion on player signings and another £90 million on hiring and firing managers as a total 13 different men across 15 different managerial spells came and went, ripping up the conventional rulebook which suggested stability in the dugout was the foundation of a lasting dynasty.

Chelsea had intermittently won Silverware in the past — a solitary First Division title in 1955, the 1971 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and three FA Cups between 1970 and 2000 among them — but Abramovich transformed them into English football’s nouveau riche. Winning five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, two Europa Leagues, two Community Shields, one Super Cup and finally the Club World Cup in February, his investment and oversight helped turn them into a powerhouse of the modern game, shattering the status quo.

Roman Abramovich brought a new style of ownership to the Premier League in 2003. Still on Abramovich’s impact on Chelsea, a Sports writer confirmed that when Abramovich originally decided to buy an English team in 2003, he and his advisers drew up a five-club shortlist: Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. A source close to Abramovich at the time told ESPN that contact was made with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, while Arsenal informed Abramovich they were not for sale. Liverpool were ruled out and United’s asking price was thought to be too high at £500 million, but Abramovich already had designs on London, not least because he already owned property in Knightsbridge, one of the most affluent parts of the city.

Recall too that Chelsea was in a vulnerable state. Then-chief executive Trevor Birch told the players before their final game of the 2002-03 season, that victory was essential to help the club avoid financial ruin. Denmark winger, Jesper Gronkjaer, scored the goal, which secured a 2-1 win over Liverpool and assured Champions League qualification by finishing fourth. Six weeks later, Abramovich bought the club for £140 million and immediately began spending money on top players to close the gap on Manchester United and Arsenal.

“The Gronkjaer goal is probably the most important goal in the history of Chelsea,” Kieran Maguire, author of “The Price of Football”, told ESPN. “Whether Abramovich would have bought the club without Champions League football is the question but that certainly helped seal the deal. The total spending in the Premier League in 2002-03 was £187 million. In 2003-04, it doubled to £390 million. It never dipped to those levels after. Abramovich was a contributory factor not only to the increase in player purchases but it helped the acceleration of wages as well.”

Chelsea spent £113 million in Abramovich’s first summer on 10 players largely of a greater calibre and prestige than the club were accustomed to, including Juan Sebastian Veron, Damien Duff and Claude Makelele. The manager Abramovich inherited, Claudio Ranieri, was dispensed with after a year and replaced by FC Porto’s rising star Jose Mourinho, who won the title in his first two seasons, seizing on the wider disgruntlement at Chelsea’s newfound wealth to create a fearless siege mentality that would form the bedrock of future successes, writes the Sports reporter. 

A 2005 report from financial experts, Deloitte, analysing Abramovich’s first full year at Chelsea, stated what most people had suspected that the club’s wage bill had skyrocketed 110% to £114.8 million, a figure the firm claimed was “almost certainly” the highest in world football at the time. That same season, the other 19 top-flight English clubs combined spent less on players’ salaries than they did the previous year.

The media reports that “Abramovich showed that you could be a disruptor to the existing duopoly of United and Arsenal through spending money, investing in both managers and players,” Maguire said. “And also that could result in payback almost immediately because they started to win trophies. To a certain extent, that opened the eyes of other potential investors who saw the glamour of the Premier League and realised they could perhaps do similar.”

Analytically, a reporter says that although Abramovich had no particular affinity with Chelsea and pursued a policy of almost never giving media interviews, fans quickly grew to love him. David Johnstone has been a supporter since the 1970s and is editor of the fanzine “cfcuk.” He told ESPN: “I was down at Stamford Bridge a couple of days after he bought the club. One of his security guys was outside the main office entrance. I asked him if I could wait and meet the owner. He said ‘Yes, but whatever you do don’t make any sudden movements.’ 

So has the old order of splashing huge cash on acquisitions of talented players over? Chelsea’s website seems ambivalent in confronting the above interrogation. 

But the club’s official website states that Todd Boehly is honest about Chelsea’s transfer plans. The official website of the club says Chelsea fans really got to live the dream in terms of transfers.

It said: “Roman Abramovich took over and spent crazy amounts of money 15 years ago, and the Blues broke every record in taking themselves to the top of the game. So we’re not too fussed if we enter a new age of frugality now – although lots of fans will be. All we want to see is enough money spent to keep us competitive in the Champions League, and nothing drained out of the club to make the owners richer.’’

If we can be as successful as they have been in recent years, we don’t really mind how much we spend, the new American Billionaire owner says. 

The truth however remains that without the billions injected into the club by the former owner, the Russian Billionaire, Chelsea FC couldn’t have reached the global status as a respected football heavyweight. 

Just like what Philip Ahmadu a security guard in one of the top rated hotels in Abuja who is a diehard supporter of Chelsea FC like this writer said with nostalgia, we hope the new American owner won’t be too economising as not to bring out the cash needed to buy more talented players so we remain on top because football is a fast moving train. 

The truth is, Americans aren’t good at spending humongous cash as much as Russians.  Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.