The love affair has been rekindled. The passion is back. Things had gone stale for a while, but the romance has returned.
Roman Abramovich loves football again. Chelsea’s unlikely triumph in Bayern’s back garden saw the Russian billionaire realise a goal stated early on in his ownership of the club. The Premier Leagues were satisfying, the FA Cups a nice chance to meet Prince William, but the European Cup was always where it was at for Abramovich. There’s nothing like being able to call yourself ‘the best in Europe’. Even if it’s patently not true, it’s an argument that be ended with a swift point in the direction of the trophy cabinet.
Judging by how much access he has allowed Roberto Di Matteo to his bank account, he’s hoping to have Old Big Ears in his possession a lot more often in future. No club in the world has recruited as expensively as Chelsea over the summer. It’s a Galactico-sized budget, but with a Wenger-sized eye on the future.
It’s marks a shift in transfer policy at Stamford Bridge. They’re still willing to pay the big fees, but it’s now going towards young talent. In the past, the goal was to bring in established, ‘ready-made’ stars, but it doesn’t take too many £30 million losses on Andrei Shevchenko to make you rethink the wisdom of that tactic.
With the exception of the 2006/07 season, when he tightened the purse strings and Jose Mourinho signed Tal Ben Haim, Steve Sidwell and Claudio Pizarro on free transfers in some sort of bizarre protest, Ambramovich has spent freely. There had been time when a long term plan aimed at making the club profitable was an expressed goal, but after a few years and about the best part of a billion pounds, that has been quietly swept under the carpet.
This off-season has already seen the arrival of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Thorgan Hazard and Oscar. On the back of Juan Mata, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaka arriving last summer, that accounts for a large chunk of the world’s emerging top class talent. And that may not be where the spending ends.
The first twenties signings of the Abramovich era were on average, 23.9 years old when they joined the club. That figure included a combined £31.8 million for a then 28 year olds Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo and £16.8 million for a 30 year old Claude Makelele – who was admittedly brilliant. The last twenty arrivals at the Bridge had an average age of 22.
The gap between the average ages isn’t huge, but it’s also how the money has been spent. Early on, throwing money at players in their late 20s was the approach. It didn’t seem to matter that – regardless of their success or failure – they’d leave the club as thirty-somethings for little or nothing.
These days it’s the youngsters who are being targeted with the larger part of the transfer kitty with a few cheaper, lower risk and more experienced old hands augmenting the group. If the new guys flop, at least they’re still young enough to sell on at a later date. You’ll more than likely be taking a loss, but it’s better than financing a player’s lavish London lifestyle before letting him leave for free a few years later.
Chelsea look to have bought well. The fact is possibly best illustrated by Roberto Mancini trying to light a fire under Manchester City executive Brian Marwoodfor the lack of transfer activity at the Etihad this summer.
Abramovich never really gave up on Chelsea, but his interest had seemed to wane as the expensive near-misses mounted up. The activity of this summer has instantly rubbished that theory. If it all comes off, the Roman Revolution Mark II could be more successful and long-lasting than the first.