Could the Chelsea/Abramovich drama be the start of a bigger sportswashing reckoning?


(AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

News that the UK government had placed a freeze on the assets of Chelsea Football Club’s oligarch owner Roman Abramovich threw the football world into a frenzy yesterday. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the ramifications of the sanctions, or wax lyrical about who may end up buying Chelsea (and for how much…)

Suffice it just to say that the UK experienced the kind of speculative media frenzy normally reserved for the US at the announcement of the March madness bracket. Pundits everywhere wondered what this meant for CFC – with the severe restrictions placed on their operation – especially when it comes to player transfers.

Arsenal blogger and finance guru Swiss Ramble posted a remarkable thread detailing Chelsea’s current and historic financial performance under Roman Abramovich that gives far more insight than I could ever dream to.

As football fans, however, there was an exhibition of Schadenfreude not seen since, well, probably last weekend, when ‘spot kick specialist’ Kepa replaced Mendy in the 119th minute of the Carabao Cup Final, only to not save one Liverpool penalty, and then blasting his own spot kick into Wembley’s top tier.

Football fans are tribal, Shadenfreude is their favourite tipple.

There are grounds for the beef that fans have with Chelsea: it is generally agreed it was the purchase of the club by Abramovich that set football on the road to ruin. With an unlimited budget, they bought ALL the best players, drove up wages, and used this financial doping to win an unprecedented amount of trophies over a short period of time. They turned the league table on its head, and ended the domination of Manchester United and Arsenal.

A few years later, Manchester City followed the Russian oligarch’s gameplay, and further distorted the natural order of things, by bringing Arab oil money into the Premier League. Eventually, billionaires everywhere were claiming football clubs as assets – nation state Qatar swallowed up French mega-club Paris Saint Germain, and more recently, the Saudis threw their many eggs into the Newcastle FC basket, hoping to jump on the sportswashing bandwagon.

Chelsea’s woes seem very much like karma in action. Whether this will raise broader questions regarding the suitability of other foreign owners such as those at MCFC, PSG and NUFC – entities with their own questionable track records and associations – remains to be seen.

With Chelsea’s future uncertain, Liverpool and City squads peaking, United in disarray, Spurs being, well, Spurs and rising clubs like West Ham, Leicester and Wolves not yet able to sustain season-long pressure, a young and resurgent Arsenal, with a capable and driven manager in Arteta, seem uniquely poised to gain from this unexpected turmoil.

If they can get back into the Champions League, this may be the start of a new Golden Era.

Goners can but dream.


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