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Martin Samuel: Roman Abramovich's 457m bill for 1,639 new Chelsea fans

20 Sep 2010 06:41:11

Martin Samuel: Roman Abramovich's 457m bill for 1,639 new Chelsea fans

In the seven years before Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea, the club spent £106million on players and drew an average gate of 39,784. Since Abramovich arrived, £457m has been poured into the transfer market and attendances have risen - to 41,423. That is a difference of just 1,639 people, or £278,828 per fan. No wonder the talk is that Abramovich is trimming his investment, introducing cost-cutting measures and reduced transfer budgets at Stamford Bridge. Crowd pleasers: but Drogba, Malouda and Co do not always play to full houses at Stamford Bridge Never forget that three league titles have been won in his time, and an equivalent number of FA Cups. The League Cup has been won twice and Chelsea have appeared in the last four of the Champions League on no fewer than five occasions. There are obviously contributory factors, not least the capacity at Stamford Bridge. It is likely that for certain big matches the club could have sold considerably more than the 42,449 permitted. Yet Chelsea's average gate since Abramovich came in would still not constitute a sell-out. The fact is that while the significance of Chelsea has grown in Abramovich's seven years, the size of the club has remained largely unmoved. It is not familiarity that has bred this contempt, either. Over the preceding decades the supporters hardly had the opportunity to grow weary of the heights of European football, yet it is noticeable that the ground is rarely full for Champions League group games. Sizing down: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich Chelsea should have exploded in Abramovich's time, making a move to bigger premises essential. He has done everything right. He has invested substantially in players of good quality, who have in turn delivered success. He has encouraged entertaining football, and 44 goals in 11 games this season suggest an ambition fulfilled there, too. He even froze ticket prices for four years prior to this season, equating to a net deduction of 15 per cent, with inflation considered. So what is Chelsea's problem? Strangely, there isn't one. They are simply proof of how incredibly hard it is to grow a club organically beyond its traditional size. Arsenal moved from Highbury, where the capacity at closure was 38,419, to a new stadium at Ashburton Grove holding 60,355, and filled it instantly. Yet Arsenal have long been established as the biggest club in London and at the time of leaving Highbury had a 20,000-strong waiting list for season tickets, closed for some time. This, in part, prompted their move. The board knew that, in essence, Arsenal were a club with a following of 60,000; it was just that 22,000 of them couldn't fit inside the stadium. Part of the reason Tottenham Hotspur are so desperate to upgrade White Hart Lane is to accommodate their own substantial waiting list. Yet on June 9, Chelsea announced season tickets were available to any 2010/11 member with 67 loyalty points or more, the equivalent of having attended every home match last season, using a ticket purchased on free sale. Chelsea continue to look at plans to expand, but without the enthusiasm that exists elsewhere. Their big leap came between 1989 and 2003 when the average gate rose from 15,957 to 39,770. They hit the 41,000-mark the following year and have remained there since. Bruce Buck, the chairman, is a realist. Abramovich is too, in his way. Beyond swapping lunacy for financial responsibility, his enthusiasm does not wane. Even with unprecedented success and £457m lavished on players, Chelsea find growth hard, yet Abramovich has not lost interest, as many expected. But how many will follow him, once UEFA's poorly-conceived financial regulations take hold? If Chelsea's progress in joining the traditional upper echelons of European football is so dauntingly slow, imagine how difficult it will be when clubs are denied the potential of fast-tracking through owner investment? The transition from small to middling, middling to elite, will be glacial, and considerably more problematic than it is already. If Abramovich cannot do it, who can? And more importantly, who will be bothered?  Knock out the groups of deathHaving brought European Cup football to White Hart Lane for the first time in 40 years, one might think Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, would be full of it. Instead, he chose the week of Tottenham's opening group game against Werder Bremen of Germany to lambast the format of the modern tournament. Redknapp denounced the Champions League group stage as little more than shooting practice for the biggest clubs, adding it takes until spring for the competition to become interesting. Shooting practice: Spurs boss Redknapp says Champions League group stage format should be changed in order to challenge the big clubs A slight exaggeration, maybe, but he is not alone in his scepticism. As the earliest rounds degenerate into a morass of mismatches and stalemates, there are increasing calls for a return to knockout football. As predicted, Sunderland gave Arsenal more of a game yesterday than SC Braga of Portugal could. How would a new format work? There are 76 teams that enter the competition. This could either be pared down to 64 or increased to 128, giving additional entries to teams from the smaller nations. An expanded competition would, in turn, stop a single team from the minnow countries claiming the entire Champions League pot each season and eventually turning the domestic championship into a procession. As a result, instead of mismatches spread over a tedious six games of group football as happens now, the instantaneous nature of knockout football would mean no opponent could be taken lightly. Who knows, we might even see a genuine surprise - one that has consequence. Rangers earned a creditable goalless draw at Old Trafford on Tuesday, but Manchester United now have five games to recover, so no panic. Taking that result to Ibrox in an elimination match, however, would be a considerably different proposition; and while Arsenal's 6-0 win over Braga would make for a dead return in a knockout round, at least it would not make for a dead group, which is how much of the Champions League pans out as the gulf between competitors increases. Bore draw: A knockout game would have made Tuesday's drab draw at Old Trafford more worthwhile The Champions League should become the Champions Cup, a knockout competition, as it used to be. The teams could split into two groups, seeded and unseeded, before being paired off, with the unseeded clubs getting their home tie first. Then it would be interesting. What stops change happening? Fear. The fear of elite clubs that they might not be good enough. The fear that they will one day fall at the first hurdle, meet their match in Belgrade or Copenhagen and lose all that lovely loot. The fear of opening the door to their exclusive little club, even a fraction. All the money and the power is still not enough to calm them. Given the opportunity, the richest and biggest clubs in Europe will always prefer the cosiness and safety of the group: and it is to UEFA's shame that they enable this.  Despite earning their first point of the season, West Ham United barely looked comfortable against Stoke City. This is increasingly down to the erratic performances of Robert Green, the goalkeeper, who has clearly not recovered from his trauma at the World Cup. Net busted: Hapless Hammers No 1 Robert Green concedes again as his World Cup pain continues in the Premier League Whether Green's situation should have been handled differently by Fabio Capello, the England manager, is moot. All that matters is he cannot continue being an accident waiting to happen at the heart of the West Ham defence. It is time to remove him from the team to rediscover his confidence. There is a good goalkeeper in there somewhere; it is the job of his manager Avram Grant to find him.  Arsene Wenger saw nothing in the signalled injury time to cause Arsenal's match with Sunderland still to be in progress after four minutes and 15 seconds, when Darren Bent equalised. Yet what if Phil Dowd, the referee, knew that the correct addition was a little over four minutes? The rules allow additional time to be announced in whole minutes only.  Dowd could not call five and blow short; he has to call four and play a little extra. Wenger's real beef should be with his defence, who were in a needless flap dealing with Sunderland's pressure.  There was recently a Westminster Hall debate on the role of football supporters in the governance of professional clubs. The usual blowhard MPs were in attendance, saying nothing new, but one detail did amuse. Hazel Blears (Labour, Salford and Eccles) and best remembered for repaying £13,332 in capital gains tax she had avoided and for flipping her second home in London three times in one year to maximise taxpayer-funded allowances, tried to gain support for a more rigorous fit-and-proper persons' test in football. They should charge admission for this stuff, really. It's comic gold.  Knowing the professionalism of the man, one presumes Gerard Houllier has done little other than watch tapes of Aston Villa these last two weeks. He will have sought to familiarise himself with each player and every detail of his play. So quite why Houllier left the running of the Villa team that played Bolton Wanderers on Saturday to Kevin MacDonald is a mystery. Why the long wait: New Villa boss Gerard Houllier watches his side draw at home to Bolton from the stands Harry Redknapp secured the Tottenham Hotspur job late one Saturday night in 2008 and was straight into action the following afternoon against Bolton. His arrival gave Tottenham fresh impetus and their first league win that season; Villa drew, and have now won a single game in their last six. What was Houllier waiting for?  AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT...Sam Allardyce, manager of Blackburn Rovers, sounds increasingly bitter at his lack of opportunity in English football, and he has a point, but self-aggrandising statements about the ease of managing a big club do him few favours. Given the chance, briefly, at Newcastle United, he did not last one season, and if opportunity knocked again Allardyce's comments would saddle him with an almost impossible level of expectation. Contrary to what he thinks, it is far from certain that the manager of Manchester United wins the league, or does the Double every year. Time for Big Sam: Allardyce reckons he'd easily win the Double every year if he was in charge at Old Trafford Allardyce's friend, Sir Alex Ferguson, has been in charge at Old Trafford 24 seasons and most people think he has done a pretty decent job in that time. Yet in 13 of those campaigns he achieved neither the Double nor even a league title. What a chump, eh? Allardyce spelled out Ferguson's shortcomings when he said that given the job at Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United or Chelsea, 'it wouldn't be a problem for me - I'd win the league or the Double every time'. Makes you wonder what Ferguson has been playing at all these years.  It won't pay, Niall Niall Quinn, the chairman of Sunderland, telephoned this week to insist that the ideas his club are proposing to the Premier League do not constitute a salary cap. Quinn (right) says he is merely campaigning for greater transparency, allowing details of player salaries in the Premier League to be viewed by all clubs throughout the competition. This could be achieved by a closed computer network, with only the most senior employees allowed access. Quinn believes this would stop clubs being held to ransom during the transfer window by agents demanding exorbitant wage increases. If the buying club entered negotiations knowing precisely what their target player earned, then salaries could be pegged at reasonable levels. One might argue a simpler solution would be to ask the prospective signing to produce a wage slip as evidence of earnings, but if Sunderland's proposals even promote discussion it will be a start. Quinn says he became convinced of the need for reform after an agent openly mocked the notion that club chairmen would ever unite in the cause of self-regulation. His heart may be in the right place, but I fear the cynic was right.  The latest allegations against Pakistan's cricketers should come as no surprise, if proven. When a body is institutionally corrupt as Pakistan cricket has been for too long, it is going to take more than the suspension of the odd player to address the problem. Responding to news of the latest ICC investigation, a Pakistan Cricket Board statement read: 'The PCB feel that the ICC should repose more confidence in their members.' As if. The record of Pakistan cricket in recent years suggests the umpire is lucky to break even at the coin toss before the match. A lot of people now think their tour, limping on forlornly towards the winter months, should not be allowed to continue. They miss the point. Pakistan should never have been here in the first place; and should not return for the foreseeable future, until everyone connected with this travesty has been eradicated from the game.  Jamie Redkanpp: Super Chelsea are a mixture of Arsenal and Man UnitedGraham Poll - The Official Line: Blunder refs should have spotted key incidentsMatch Zone: Everything you need to know about Saturday's action  Explore more:People:Alex Ferguson, Robert Green, Bruce Buck, Fabio Capello, Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Hazel Blears, Gerard Houllier, Darren Bent, Roman Abramovich, Niall QuinnPlaces:Copenhagen, London, Portugal, Germany, United Kingdom, Pakistan, EuropeOrganisations:Pakistan Cricket Board


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