Thursday, 11 December 2014

Is it time to bow down to Roman’s Empire?

by Alastair Pusinelli.

Chelsea. One loss all season, top of the Premier League and have one of the best managers in football of the last decade. All matters on the pitch are going swimmingly, and it would be a surprise if Chelsea didn’t lift the Premier League trophy come May. The Blues still seem to be the only British club who currently challenge in European competitions, lifting the Champions League in 2012 and Europa League in 2013. However, Chelsea as a brand and a business is on a par with their footballing prowess with almost all areas of the club looking positive.

The Ladies

Chelsea Ladies were narrowly pipped to the Women’s Super League title in October after heading into the final day top of the championship. This may sound disappointing, but when you look at the fact that they finished second bottom in 2013, only picking up 10 points, it is safe to say that the ladies’ side are on the up. What’s more, January signing and South Korean international Ji So-Yun was awarded Super League Players’ Player of the Year, which could be a sign that Chelsea are looking to raise their profile in the East.

The Academy

The Chelsea U21 and U18 sides did the league and cup double last season lifting the U21 Premier League and FA Youth Cup littered with young English talent. Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke were instrumental in those successes and both were on hand to help England win the U17 European Championships in Malta last summer. Chelsea currently have nine youngsters involved in the England age group sides (U18s: Jake Clarke-Salter, Dominic Solanke; U19s: Ola Aina, Izzy Brown, Charlie Colkett, Alex Kiwomya, Ruben Loftus-Cheek; U20s: Lewis Baker, John Swift). It is clear to see that Chelsea have a lot of promise coming through their books and it is refreshing for a big English club to produce so much home-grown talent. Jose Mourinho has given academy graduates Loftus-Cheek and Solanke first team action this season as well as Dutchman Nathan Aké and Andreas Christensen from Denmark.

The loan network

This is one area of business which many football fans and experts have qualms with. Chelsea currently have 25 players out on loan which has raised a number of concerns in the industry. Over the past few seasons Chelsea have sent more and more players out on loan and to one club in particular, Vitesse Arnhem. Last season seven Chelsea players were on loan at the Dutch club owned by an associate of Roman Abramovich. But after complaints over a ‘co-operation agreement’ and questions of ownership over both clubs Chelsea have only sent three players to Vitesse this term. This issue now seems to have been put to bed but it is difficult to say whether this policy is good or bad business for The Pensioners.

Yes they are getting young players minutes on the pitch in the Premier League, Championship and top European leagues but when players are out on loan for the third or fourth season in a row is it not time to pull the plug? Take Gael Kakuta for example. He was signed illegally back in 2009 after Chelsea encouraged the French youngster to terminate his contract with Marseille. Since then he has represented Chelsea 16 times, but has not featured since the 2010/11 season. He has had seven loan spells since joining Chelsea and there seems to be no benefit for club or player. However, the loan system has worked well for Chelsea in the past, but perhaps sometimes too well. Thibaut Courtois was signed from Belgian side Genk in 2009 and subsequently spent three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid and ended up defeating Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals last season.

The finances

It’s no secret that Chelsea and Roman Abramovich have a wealth of finances but unlike Premier League rivals Manchester City they have stayed in line with Financial Fair Play laws. In addition, Chelsea reported a record profit of £18.4m for the year to June 2014 despite lifting no silverware. This was thanks to the new Premier League broadcasting deals and the sale of Juan Mata to Manchester United for £37.1m. It shall be seen if Chelsea can balance the books again this year with the big money signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, but remember they offloaded the erratic defender David Luiz for a staggering £50m. In the summer of 2013, Chelsea agreed a 10-year contract worth a whopping £300m with sports merchandise giants Adidas to manufacture their kit. This is the third largest kit deal in football, behind Adidas’s partnerships with Real Madrid and Manchester United (starting next season).

Where next?

So, the pressure is now on the first team to lift trophies and give the club that footballing ‘superpower’ label that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United have (or used to have). But everything is set for the Roman Empire to conquer the Premier League, Europe and target world domination. But is there any department at the club in which Chelsea need to seriously consider improving? Apart from the very hit-and-miss loan system I have already mentioned, Chelsea do lack the grand support around the globe. For instance Manchester United have a huge following in the Far East and Manchester City have launched sister clubs in Australia and the US. However, I believe Chelsea need to concentrate on their footballing matters for this to happen. United have 13 Premier League titles to Chelsea’s three, so it is clear that global fandom is a long process.

Chelsea’s ground Stamford Bridge has always provided a conundrum for the powers that be at the club. It is an iconic ground but for its support as opposed to architecture. Chelsea’s hierarchy bid to convert Battersea Power Station into a 60,000 seater stadium in 2012 but were unsuccessful. It is clear that Chairman Bruce Buck wants the club to move elsewhere with Stamford Bridge still under custody of Chelsea Pitch Owners plc. The CPO bought the land and naming rights of both the ground and ‘Chelsea Football Club’ during financial difficulties in the 70s and 80s. Abramovich and Buck have given up hope of moving stadium for now and are looking at increasing The Bridge to the desired 60,000 capacity. But with the location of the ground with train lines and a hotel next door, this will not be easy and the club will need to play its home matches elsewhere for a season.

So, it is clear that the club is heading firmly in the right direction. But for now, the future of the Roman Empire is in the hands of General Mourinho.