UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws have changed the beautiful game forever. Introducing rules that dictate transfer spend must be in proportion to profit and loss, the days of exuberant billionaires pumping personal fortunes into Premier League clubs will soon be behind us.
Evidence thus far is perhaps yet to suggest this. Real Madrid forked out £87million on a single player, Gareth Bale, only last summer, and Manchester City were only too happy to accept their recent £49million fine from UEFA for breaching FFP. To Sheik royalty, that’s not even loose change.
But do not be fooled. The rules of the transfer game, especially in the Premier League, have changed significantly. Although England’s top clubs will continue to spend as lavishly as before, every lucrative acquisition must be offset by an almost as lucrative departure.
And of all Premier League clubs, it’s currently Chelsea who are showing their ability to adapt. Whilst title rivals City have felt UEFA’s bite, or at least a slightly vicious nibble, and Manchester United allegedly plan a £200million summer spending spree with the potential repercussions yet to be foreseen, in terms of shrewdness, astuteness and abiding by FFP, the Blues are some way ahead of the pack.
First of all, there’s Chelsea’s somewhat sinister but undoubtedly impressive loan farm of youth talents. Although many have questioned whether the youth system at Stamford Bridge will ever consistently produce first team players, it’s had a tremendously positive effect on balancing their books.
Kevin de Bruyne for example, was picked up by the west Londoners in January 2012 for just under £7million after impressing at FC Genk. Two years, one impressive loan spell at Werder Bremen and just three senior appearances for the Blues later, he was sold to Wolfsburg for an £11million mark-up in January. Another, more relevant way of looking at that, is £11million-worth of free spending Chelsea were privy to under Financial Fair Play.
This is just one instance. Last season, Chelsea’s loan operation involved 26 players of 14 different nationalities playing in nine different divisions across five countries. Their potential and values vary, but most are expected to eventually make the club a tidy profit after increasing their market worth during loan spells rather than ever feature for the Blues first team.
That’s a solid basis to start from. If Chelsea were to hypothetically sell Christian Atsu, Marko van Ginkel, Wallace, Patrick Bamford, Oriol Romeu, Ulises Davila and Lucas Piazon – their more notable youthful acquisitions over the last three seasons – for double of their original investments this summer, that would constitute an extra £29million they can spend under FFP without scrutiny from UEFA.
But Chelsea’s shrewdness doesn’t stop there. The arrival of Jose Mourinho has provided some much-needed stability at Stamford Bridge and resultantly the first team can be moulded around one clear vision, rather than constant turnarounds of managers with different ideas, preferences and opinions on certain players.
In turn, the Portuguese has been able to sacrifice players for the sake of making new signings without endangering the club’s FFP standing. For example, Juan Mata, a diminutive playmaker that lacked defensive work-rate and was dangerously similar to what Chelsea already had, was sold to Manchester United for £37million in January and soon replaced by 6 foot 5 midfield monolith Nemanja Matic. In contrast, the Serbian addressed the west Londoners – and more importantly, Mourinho’s – intrinsic need for an imposing, powerful anchorman.
Likewise, David Luiz, although a talented player and a useful squad man, became unjustifiable to keep at Stamford Bridge under the new era of FFP. He was simply too valuable to be utilised as bit-part cover for midfield and at centre-back, something which PSG soon confirmed with a record-breaking £50million bid for the Brazil international.
During Roman Abramovich’s reign, Chelsea have made a statement of never being forced to sell a player. They are not a feeder club to the rest of the European elite, and in my opinion, had FFP not come into existence, David Luiz would still be a Blues player right now. But just as Mata’s January departure paved the way for Matic – a player far more crucial to the Chelsea game plan – Luiz’s exit to Paris has allowed the west Londoners to spend £30million on Cesc Fabregas and £32million on Diego Costa.
Once again, Chelsea have traded ambiguity for more prevalent needs. If the Blues suffered from two fatal flaws last season it was a lack of firepower and presence in the final third, and the inability to break well-organised, ten-man defences down in midfield. Costa and Fabregas address both issues respectively, making Chelsea a far stronger side, yet the club’s overall spend from these transfers, in terms of the FFP accounts, remains just £12million.
That, in addition to the £20million arrival of left-back Felipe Luis, is expected to be offset by the anticipated departures of Fernando Torres, Victor Moses, Ryan Bertrand, Demba Ba and Marko Marin, not to mention the now customary annual sales of at least a handful of Chelsea’s value-fatted loan youngsters. And that’s before the amount Chelsea are actually allowed to spend under FFP, depending on their profits from last year, is even considered into the equation.
We may not have felt it’s full force just yet, but Financial Fair Play will have a huge impact on the transfer market over the course of the next few years. And within the realms of the Premier League, proving devilishly shrewd in their ability to benefit financially from the natural progression of youth products whilst also demonstrating prudence in spotting players whose worth to the market exceeds that of the first team, Chelsea have undoubtedly made themselves the example to follow.