‘Just follow the money trail’, that was the instruction given by Deep Throat to Carl Bernstein in All the President’s Men. The idea being that if you want to find the motivation for an action, just look at who stands to profit from it.
Under this kind of logic, we may come to the conclusion that Chelsea had a hand in the dramatic slump in form that saw Vitesse go from league leaders, and therefore Champions League qualifiers, to a fight for Europa League football next season.
Vitesse Arnhem owner Alexander Chigirinsky is a known friend of Roman Abramovich’s and Chelsea have certainly benefited from the ‘feeder’ relationship that they have with the Dutch club.
But former Vitesse owner Merab Jordania has claimed that the relationship goes much further than this. Jordania has claimed that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich also owns Vitesse, and that the Dutch were under strict orders from ‘London’ not to qualify for the Champions League.
This is because according to UEFA regulations, two clubs under the same ownership cannot take part in the same European competition.
The allegations have so far been categorically denied by Chelsea, but are considered serious enough to warrant an investigation by the Dutch Football Federation into the ownership of the club.
And on the face it, things do not bode well for Chelsea.
Vitesse Arnhem have certainly experienced a dramatic change in fortunes this season.
At the exact halfway point in the campaign, Vitesse were top of the Eredivisie. They had just beaten NAC Breda 3-2 to complete a six game winning streak that included the scalp of current league leaders, and likely victors, Ajax. Vitesse were on course for a title challenge at the very least.
But the club would not win again for another seven games. At the end of this slump, Vitesse would find themselves 4th, a safe distance from the 2nd place required to achieve Champions League qualification.
Two games into this winless period, Chelsea would also deem it necessary to recall Gael Kakuta and Sam Hutchinson, two of the more senior players out of the total seven sent on loan to the Dutch club this season.
And Vitesse have never regained their early season form. The club remains in 4th, and faces a fight PSV in order to secure Europa League football for next season.
Jordania claims that the reason for this change in fortunes was due to a direct order from Stamford Bridge not qualify for the Champions League. And however plausible this may appear, there are also reasons to doubt this explanation.
First of all, during Vitesse’s seven game winless streak, one of only three teams that they did not lose to were Feynoord, currently second in the table. If Vitesse had been ordered to finish outside the top two as Jordania has claimed, Feynoord were the one team in this succession of games that you would have wanted to drop points against.
Secondly, even though Vitesse were top of the Erdivisie after 17 games, they weren’t top by much. Ajax were only two points behind in 2nd, and FC Twente only three adrift in 3rd.
So if Vitesse were under orders from Stamford Bridge to finish 3rd or lower, all they needed to effectively do was lose one game when the other two had won. Why would the club then risk drawing attention to themselves than necessary by putting together such a poor run of results?
Thirdly, Chelsea may have recalled two loan players in January, but at the same time they sent over the highly-rated Bertrand Traore in their place.
And if we believe Chelsea’s recall of Kakuta and Hutchinson to be a deliberate attempt to derail Vitesse’s season, it begs the question why not do more damage by calling back Lucas Piazon or Christian Atsu? The latter in particular has been in fine form for the Dutch club, scoring 11 goals in 19 games.
The argument may be put forward that Chelsea were attempting to remain inconspicuous, but this would seem to be contradiction with the lack of discretion apparent in the rest of proceedings.
It cannot be denied that Chelsea’s relationship with Vitesse is questionable. And although they may claim that their dealings with the club don’t go past the ‘feeder’ status, given how Chelsea tend to do their business, it would be surprising if the club weren’t at least bending the rules.
However, neither the actions of Vitesse Arnhem or Chelsea are consistent with Merab Jordania’s claim that Roman Abramovich also has ownership of the Dutch club.
The benefits of Abramovich owning both clubs would also be dubious as he already appears to get all he needs from the association through his relationship with majority shareholder Alexander Chigirinsky.
It may be argued that this gives Abramovich de facto control of Vitesse, but such a claim is much harder to prove. As it is, it would appear that Chelsea are guilty having an unhealthy influence on the Dutch club at best.