Most football leagues require participating clubs to remain financially solvent. Indeed, several teams have been relegated from Italy’s Serie A precisely for this reason. One supposes that this is not strictly for paternalistic reasons but rather for the good of the league – a club which doesn’t operate under the financial restrictions shared by its competitors will surely have an unfair advantage. The thought occurs to me that, from the point of view of a fair competition, the same surely applies to Chelsea. This club, despite its prominence, doesn’t pay for itself. Not by a long shot. Now, what is the salient difference, between a club using money extended by a bank and a club using money profferred by its sugar daddy? In each case, it hasn’t earned the money through its own success.
I am aware that this is a tricky question and it might appear to be an abritrary line to draw – whether the club earned the money or not. I am also familar with redistributionist policies in American football, where the worst teams get first bite at the promising new players but I don’t think such proposals would be appropriate for a league such as the premiership to and from which teams are promoted and relegated. It’s not so much the punishing of success that would bother me in the premiership’s case, but instead the rewarding of failure. The teams in the relegation slots at the end of the season generally deserve to be relegated, the team which barely misses relegation is rewarded sufficiently already by retention of premiership status.
Further, the success or failure of a team has a lot more to do with the manager and the board – team selections, tactics, wise or foolish transfer decisions etc. – and less to do with individual rookie players. In general, I prefer a laissez-faire approach but it’s more than just sour grapes which makes me think that something ought to be done about Chelsea’s unfair advantage. Mourinho, is probably the best manager in the league, granted and Chelsea are able to attract top players and pay them the best wages and up to that point I don’t have a problem. This merely puts them on a par with other rich European sides.
Where I draw the line is that the approximately unlimited wealth of their patron and the slippery ethics of certain individuals with the club enable them to thwart the attempts of competitors to sign the players they want. United wanted Michael Essien, he went to Chelsea and plays in their first team, fair enough. Arsenal wanted Sean Wright Phillips, Chelsea signed him and he rarely gets a run out, not quite so fair. It’s clear that Essien’s main advantage is on the pitch, while SWP’s advantage to Chelsea is that he doesn’t play for Arsenal.
These tactics are also employed for the promising rookie players, Chelsea’s underhand attempt to tear up United’s contract with Jon Obi Mikel is likely to be successful and they will do their best to try to stop Theo Walcott going to Arsenal.
It seems to me that the Premier League has a duty to deal with these types of anti-competitive tactics, otherwise, until their owner gets bored (diminishing returns will surely apply after the third on the trot) we will all have to be content to sit back and watch Chelsea’s annual procession to the title.