?News of Roman Abramovich withdrawing his UK visa application coupled with the Russian shelving Chelsea’s £1bn stadium plans has added to a mounting sense of uncertainty around Chelsea, who are at risk of losing touch with their rivals.
The British authorities made a statement ?in refusing to renew the Russian oligarch’s visa and Abramovich hit back in some fashion, pulling the plug on £1bn worth of investment that would undoubtably have had a huge impact on the community in terms of economic and social development.
Changes to the visa process – which came to force in 2015 – means that applicants may be required to prove the origins of their wealth. This no doubt proved to be the stumbling block in Abramovich’s application, since becoming a success in Putin’s Russia demonstrates a propensity for the unsavoury – but we already knew that.
People who engage in behaviours deemed harmful to the public good are those that the British authorities are obligated to deny entry to. This does not apply to Abramovich, his visa hold-up appears to be settling a score between the two countries – with Brexit on the horizon, denying the level of investment that ‘was’ on offer seems misguided.
This has left Chelsea in a state of confusion and although it has been reported that the owner’s visa troubles will have no impact on the running of the football club, it has added to the uncertainty around the club.
Chelsea, who have yet to decide on a manager for next season having ditched their pursuit of Maurizio Sarri (refusing to pay up to £8m of compensation), appear to be leaning towards appointing Laurent Blanc. Hardly a box office name, the Frenchman was last seen at Paris Saint-Germain over two years ago.
Yet the appointment of Chelsea’s last resort, Blanc, is still some way off completion. Whilst Chelsea wait, rival clubs are preparing for next season, and such inertia will do little to convince the likes of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois of a prosperous future worth hanging around for.
Last month, Hazard demanded his side sign players of genuine quality this summer or risk losing him. Yet without a manager in place, and only Europa League football to contend with next season, Chelsea are not the prospect they once were.
Chelsea are of course not unfamiliar with living in a state of flux. Where managers have succeeded they in turn have quickly fallen out of favour, players have also come and gone and in some cases returned again only to once again be marginalised – see David Luiz and Nemanja Matic – yet success has been sustained.
In times of past uncertainty Abramovich’s unparalleled wealth was enough to coax a top player or manager into signing – this is no longer the case. The new self-sustaining Chelsea model, plus the club’s failure to secure Champions League football for the second time in three seasons, has led to financial parity largely being restored amongst the top six and Chelsea are paying the price.
There is no doubt that Abramovich loves Chelsea – he has pumped hundreds of millions into the club through the years – however his willingness to invest in a country that has denied him entry will be questioned and if he were to stymie investment it may be years before we see Chelsea return to the top of the English game.
The uncertainty around Chelsea threatens to have a very real impact. The Blues are at risk of a sustained spell outside the top four and with a ground capacity far behind that of their rivals at just above 40,000, the club will in time feel the pinch. Sustainability and their ability to compete with the wealthier Manchester clubs looks some way off.