THE boys in blue are becoming useful idiots for everyone else in the English Premier League. Chelsea Football Club, the Jackass Forever Special Edition, is currently screening twice a week for anyone still naïve enough to think a billionaire prankster is a viable solution to financial problem.
To watch Todd Boehly’s ongoing exercise in self-harm is to recall Johnny Knoxville and his buddies in the Jackass movies, punching themselves in the testicles for reasons that were unclear, but strangely entertaining. They were hurting themselves. Deliberately. They looked bizarre back then. They look like Chelsea now.
It’s a little tasteless, and certainly lacking in decorum, according to Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. In a viral interview this week, the retired striker believed that his club had “a certain class during the Abramovich era”, which has since been lost.
Let those ironic words wash over you like an oil bath. The Blues have fallen below the standards of a club once run by an elusive oligarch, a Putin crony sanctioned for his “clear connections” to the Kremlin. Oh, the good old days, eh? When a network of off-shore companies funnelled cash from the oil fields of Siberia to the Blues' dressing room.
Chelsea’s owners, Boehly and Clearlake Capital, have succeeded in ways surely not anticipated by anyone after their takeover. They have given the moral high ground to Roman Abramovich, a man accused of being among a group of Russian businessmen who had “blood on their hands”, according to the UK government.
Perhaps that says more about football’s tenuous grip on morality, but there’s no denying the serious sporting consequences either. Boehly appears to be flirting with the prospect of breaking his own acquisition.
Like several billionaires of late, he’s been working on the simplest of business theories. Keep throwing money at the problem until it goes away. Both Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch might see the flaws in that theory. Chelsea fans certainly spotted them waiting to come on against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
The combined cost of substitutes Raheem Sterling, João Félix and Mykhailo Mudryk?
More than £250 million.
Their introduction in the second-leg of the quarter-final?
Apparently, the going rate for one goal in every five games is worth around £600 million. That’s how many Chelsea have knocked in, across their last five fixtures. That’s how much Boehly and his colleagues have spent since they assumed a football club was an inanimate object like any other investment property, as opposed to a pliable organisation of moving body parts, dependent upon quaint things like human relationships, collective understanding and a plan, preferably one that involves one of those goal-scoring thingies.
Blues being sunk by too much money
Just to highlight the ongoing abstract art experiment at Stamford Bridge, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea booted 28 crosses towards Real Madrid’s box. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea have no strikers.
But fear not. Romelu Lukaku will soon return from his loan spell at Inter Milan, as long as Chelsea want him (they do not). While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should ride out the final year of his contract, as long as Chelsea are happy with such an arrangement (they are not.) And if all else fails, Kai Havertz can continue to lead the line, as long as Chelsea believe the German forward is capable of doing so (they do not).
It gets worse. Since his takeover, Boehly has read the transfer market like Mr Creosote reading a restaurant menu. In the classic Monty Python sketch, Mr Creosote devours everything on offer until a wafer-thin mint finally destroys him. Right-back Malo Gusto could be that wafer-thin mint, or forward Christopher Nkunku, or a new goalkeeper. Boehly can’t stop consuming. Further signings may trigger an explosion from within.
Thiago Silva has spoken publicly about a bloated dressing room. There’s no restraint and no more space either. Kalidou Koulibaly has flopped. Sterling has succeeded only in underlining Pep Guardiola’s judgment. Marc Cucurella should’ve stayed at Brighton. Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic are all fed up and N’Golo Kante could leave on a free transfer.
And in the most unprofessional display of waste management since The Sopranos, academy graduates Mason Mount, Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher may need to be flogged, if Chelsea intend to stay on the right side of Financial Fair Play.
Luckily, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are under the stewardship of a manager with a proven track record of assembling a stable squad on a sensible budget. Oh wait, that was Graham Potter. He did that job at Brighton. Lampard is just a temporary legend for hire, brought in only to stop the angry natives from storming Boehly’s executive box.
Instability reigns. Even the hunt for a fourth manager in less than a year feels like an improvised exercise. Julian Nagelsmann, Luis Enrique and Mauricio Pochettino all have their qualities, just very few in common, giving the impression that the Chelsea owners are only ever an agent’s phone call away from going in an entirely different direction.
Where do the Blues go from here? There’s no chance of the owners cashing out, at least not any time soon, but those who can, will. Any footballers with a marketable value are already in their lifejackets and frantically paddling away from the creaking vessel. Those without resale value are resigned to their lucrative fate. They’ll rot in the reserves and count the cash.
Weirdly, stupidly, too much money threatens to sink the Chelsea enterprise. Unless Boehly makes a sensible managerial appointment and allows others to run his football team, he may end up like Mr Creosote, leaving behind nothing but an ugly, greedy mess.
Unless Boehly makes a sensible managerial appointment and allows others to run his football team, he may end up like Mr Creosote, leaving behind nothing but an ugly, greedy mess.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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