The Leaders in Football Conference concluded today (Thursday), and Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck spoke at the event about finding the right balance between success on the pitch, and growth off it.
The annual conference, which was held at Stamford Bridge for the sixth year in succession, brought together some of the most influential people from the world of football. Figures representing FIFA, the FA, the British government and La Liga all spoke, along with current and former players, managers, and club presidents.
Buck was joined on stage in the West Stand by Nicola Cortese, the chairman of Southampton, and Peter Siemsen, Fluminense’s president. The discussion centred on the management of a football club’s finances, the new Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and how supporters’ expectations could be met. Buck began by recalling how his own perspective quickly changed once Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and his longstanding personal association with the club turned professional.
‘On 1 July 2003 I moved from watching from the East Stand across to the offices at Chelsea.
‘I was a typical football fan, a typical Chelsea fan certainly,’ Buck remembered. ‘I was continually yelling to [then chairman] Mr Bates that he should buy the best players in the world, and while he was at it, could he lower ticket prices. That seemed perfectly appropriate to me.
‘Once I got into the corporate offices I realised that isn’t quite the way life is.’
Buck also talked about how our financial and business strategy has developed since those early days of the Abramovich era.
‘When we acquired the club there was about £90m worth of debt, and Mr Abramovich was able to pay that off. In terms of moving forward and having a financial model that worked for the long term, though, we had a problem.
‘Mr Abramovich’s strategy was to be as successful as soon as possible but also build for the future, but you can’t do that without spending a significant amount of money. Our strategy was not to be frugal in the early years and we did spend a lot of money, there’s no denying it.
‘It took maybe three or four years until we realised we had to change our model and be more frugal, more conservative and have a structure for the future. That’s what we’re doing now and hopefully for the long term we’ll be successful.’
Buck reiterated that the club will adhere to FFP, and said:
‘Football had a problem, football has a problem. There are some clubs, not just in England but in most leagues, that are spending money they don’t have.
‘We felt football should do something from a rule-making perspective. Our approach really was financial stabilisation: in other words rules that would require clubs to pay their taxes and wouldn’t permit them to spend money they don’t have.
‘FFP, in essence but not entirely, goes a long way towards preserving the status quo. One of the great things about football in this country is that if you’re the last club in League Two you can still hope that someday you’ll win the Premier League.
‘I think that is difficult now, if not impossible, due to Financial Fair Play.
‘We would have preferred something that really dealt with the issue through stabilisation regulation. We had a broken finger and we cut off the arm.
‘Having said that, FFP at the UEFA level is in effect, everyone wants to be in UEFA competitions, and we will do what we have to do to make sure that we comply with those rules.’
There were conference delegates very familiar to Stamford Bridge attending over the two days, with our former player and coach Steve Clarke, now manager of West Bromwich Albion, speaking at one session on Wednesday and sharing his belief that the most important aspects of managing top-level players is to treat them with respect, honesty and make sure they understand their role in the team.
Two ex-Chelsea managers were also present, and there will be interviews with Carlo Ancelotti and Gianluca Vialli in Thursday night’s Blues News on Chelsea TV. They can also be watched via the channel’s online access.