“Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.” – H.G. Wells
What’s the problem with Chelsea? As we students of the backpages know only too well, they are many and multiple. But for those that live – Bin Laden-like – in a cave, I’ll summarise the main point vitriol of their critics as succinctly as I am able to:
- Their owner, Roman “Loadsaroubles” Abrahmovich, is an uncouth, noveau-riche oligarch who, using his (allegedly dubiously-acquired) fortune, first bought the football club then, outrageously, bought the Premiership title itself too
- Their manager, Jose “The Chosen One” Mourinho, is the world’s most ungracious loser and – put bluntly – a bit of a narcissistic ponce to boot
- The team are a motley crue of overpaid, overrated, preening prima donnas who — in between performing Olympic—grade dives following non-existent fouls – prance around most Saturday afternoons grinding out marginal wins against less-well-financed opposition
- Their methodology — many are of the opinion that Chelsea are prepared to use any means necessary — including gamesmanship and a fragrant disregard of laws that supposedly govern accepted conduct of a football club — in their single-minded pursuit of success
- The unjust nature of their status — as a new season begins, Chelsea are odds-on, stonewall, you-can-put-your-mortgage-on-it-pal favourites to win the EPL for the third time consecutively but, before the cash injection of Abrahmovich (and their previous moneyed-up patron, the late Matthew Harding), they were little more than an also-ran, dishwater-dull, south-west London football team with a pitifully low fan base.
That about sums up the most common complaints, doesn’t it? But, wait, isn’t this just another example of history repeating itself?
Those that know their footie history or are long enough in memory will recollect what Angelo Moratti did at Inter Milan in the 60’s and what Silvio Berlusconi did at AC Milan in the ’80s. They’ll remember how Bernard Tapie and Jesus Gil transformed Marseille and Atletico Madrid respectively in the ’90s.
And, lest we forget, this sort of thing is not even without example in England. In 1994, steel industry magnet, Jack Walker, was similarly accused of buying the title for his beloved Blackburn Rovers (An aside for any of you with an interest in inflationary nature of Western economies: The Team That Jack Built cost a paltry £28 million to assemble back in the day. Roman Abrahmovich spent close to eight times as much recreating the same feat just 12 years later).
Move along, please — there’s nothing new to see here.
Those that cast Abramovich as football’s anti-Christ are bogus and fraudalent. In reality, he is merely the latest in a long tradition of rich men who have used the beautiful game to create a sporting folly. That is all.
And, think about it, were the pre-Abrahmovich Premiership days really any better or are Chelsea-haters guilty of peering at the past through rose-tinted specs? It could be argued that Manchester United certainly would not have enjoyed their decade-and-a-half dominance of English football were it not for the fact they had – and willingly used — their wealth to buy advantage in the form of world class ability. The presence of Eric Cantona and Roy Keane in particular was absolutely crucial to their hey-day success.
So, those that ejected toys from pram in disgust when Chelsea added Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko to their already-formidable, star-studded squad during close season, may do well to remind themselves that, just as recently as the summer of 2001, Man U spent the best part of fifty million quid on just TWO players — they paid Holland’s PSV £19 million for the services of Ruud Van Nisteroy and smashed the then-British transfer record when they parted with £28.1 million for the (ill-fated) signature of Argentine midfielder, Juan Sebastian Veron.
Truth is; in a world of famine, prisoners of conscience, and illegal wars do we really have any right to expect justice, fair play and parity in football?
Indeed, has a level playing field ever truly existed?
Whilst Chelsea football club undoubtedly owes its current good fortune to their owner’s HUGE fortune, Roman Abramovich’s background is far from privileged. His mother died of blood poisoning when he was just 18 months old and he was orphaned at four when his father was killed tragically in a building site accident. Thereafter, he was sent to live with relatives in Ukhta – a dismal oil industry town just outside the Arctic Circle. And there is where he would have stayed, destined to become – at very, very best – a £2000 a year middle manager, were it not for his ruthless exploitation following the coming of perestroika and the subsequent Russian gold rush it created.
According to the gold diggers bible, The Sunday Times Rich List, Abrahmovich is today the richest man in Britain. His estimated, (and totally incomprehensible) fortune of £7.5bn dwarfs even that of old money, land-owning toff, The Duke of Westminster, who has to struggle by — bless him – on a guesstimated £6bn.
But what on earth can you do with that amount of cash? I mean, once you possess all of the trappings that go hand-in-hand with one of those so-damned-elusive billionaire lifestyle’s — he’s got the lot: a town house in London’s exclusive Belgravia, a 220-acre pile in Sussex, a yacht the size of a small village, the ubiquitous private jet — how do you fill your time?
He could have done something a tad more noble, I suppose. He might have worked to eradicate world hunger or promote a greater understanding between humanities in the hope of achieving world peace. But he did not. Instead, he decided to play Fantasy Football — for real!
John, Paul, George and Ringo got it wrong; money can buy you love. It can also buy you power, fame, and glory in the shape of a safe pair of hands between the sticks, a solid back four, a creative midfield and a brace of clinical finishers up top…the one singular thing money can’t buy is Time.
And therein lies the key for those of you suffering from an acute case of Chelsea fatigue.
Question is: just how long will Abromovich remain entertained by his current muse?
If, as they should surely expect, the club wins the Champions League this coming term they will have reached the zenith of club football. The problem with a peak is it inevitably leads to a trough. The only way is down and it may be at this point that he grows wary of putting his hands in his bottomless pockets and looks elsewhere (there are rumours that he wishes to launch an F1 team) for a money-draining distraction to the tedium of his luxurious existence.
But, mark my words, even if it does happen, another money man will soon take his place. In fact, if the financial pledges made by the new Villa owner – the superbly-named, Randy Lerner — aren’t just new-love, starry-eyed, sweet talk, a new footie sugar-daddy may already be in place.
In the meantime, Chelsea-haters need to calm down, think about their blood pressure and rediscover a sense of perspective.
Many people assume the simpleton grin that seems to permanently adorn the Chelsea’s owner’s face is there because he is unlikely ever to be overdrawn at the bank. Perhaps it is but I suggest otherwise. Maybe Roman Abramovich sees a truth most fail to acknowledge – the furore that his entry into world football has caused is of constant amusement to him. Why?
Because he is, after all, a child of the formerly-Communist Mother Russia who has exposed the fatal flaw of free-market Capitalism:
Those that control the wealth can do, more or less, whatever they want and there is absolutely nothing the more financially-challenged amongst us can do to stop them.