T he Coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on just about everyone and everything on the planet, and football is no exception. Euro 2020 was postponed. Players have been forced to endure a condensed and merciless fixture list. Liverpool supporters could not gather in the streets or in the stands to celebrate their first league title in 30 years. But since the game is run by cash, the most long-lasting impacts of the virus on football will be on the finances of professional clubs and leagues across the globe.
Undoubtedly, the most tangible impact of the pandemic has been the loss of ticket sales. Due to the extraordinarily lucrative nature of the league’s television licensing agreements, Premier League clubs are more monetarily stable than most of their continental counterparts. These deals become even less of a financial safeguard for teams in the lower divisions, and in leagues which never finished their 2019/20 seasons. Therefore, the smaller the television payments, the more dependent a club is on ticket sales, exacerbating the impact of playing behind closed doors.
These factors are ultimately out of any individual club’s control. So putting them aside, the impact of COVID-19 on your club was either softened or aggravated by the club’s pre-pandemic budgeting and general financial state. For a team like Barcelona, this meant letting go of several players for next to nothing, in order to decrease a greatly inflated wage bill. But for a team like Chelsea, with the financial backing of owner and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, this meant spending more on 5 signings than the spending of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal combined. This begs the question, why were Chelsea able to spend so much more than everyone else?
Boiling Chelsea’s spending spree down entirely to Abramovich’s investment, is by all means an oversimplification. Manchester City and their own wealthy owner Sheikh Mansour were the second biggest spenders last summer and still spent around €75 million less than Chelsea. Thus, along with Abramovich’s riches, Chelsea’s spending boils down to a few other key factors.
In February 2019, Chelsea were handed a ban of two transfer windows (later reduced to one) for breaching FIFA rules and regulations regarding the signing of youth players. So for roughly an entire year, Chelsea, known for their lavish transfer spending, could not make a single signing. Nevertheless, their transfer ambitions persisted. This forced the club to focus their scouting and budgeting on potential signings for the 2020 summer transfer window. Then of course, the Coronavirus pandemic hit.
Due to their financial situation, Chelsea’s transfer strategy remained unchanged, although they were now operating in a vastly different market. Clubs now had less money to spend, giving Chelsea less competition for signatures. Clubs were also now in greater need of cash, forcing them to accept lower offers and making them more eager to sell. A football agent told The Athletic that particularly during the pandemic, “most [clubs] can’t really resist for long if Chelsea come calling with a blank chequebook.”
However, Chelsea are certainly not just throwing money at other clubs. In fact, they are incredibly astute and efficient when it comes to transfer dealings, thanks in large part to Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia. Granovskaia is considered one of the best transfer negotiators, and one of the most powerful women in world football. Her dealmaking has not only been integral to the acquisitions of many top players, but also to revenue streams which are crucial in funding the club’s profuse transfer spending.
Granovskaia negotiated big money departures for the likes of Eden Hazard (€115 million) and Oscar (€60 million), and brokered a lucrative 15-year kit deal with Nike. With her ingenuity and expertise, Chelsea have become able to fund and finalize nearly all of their transfer targets over the last several years. All whilst crafting a sustainable business model and complying with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
All of these interconnected factors came to a head in the summer transfer saga which eventually saw Timo Werner move from Red Bull Leipzig to Chelsea for €53 million. Werner had a move to Liverpool firmly in mind at the start of the window. Him and Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp were even in contact, expressing interest in the move to each other.
Then Liverpool swiftly ruled out a move for Werner. “I called a guy in Liverpool that I trust very much, and he said that the American owners have been very clear to Klopp, [telling him], we can’t afford him [Werner]... and [you should] just expect not to be getting any money during this Corona transfer window” remarked former footballer and pundit Jan Åge Fjørtoft on The Gab and Juls Show.
It was at this time that Chelsea entered the fray. The London club’s interest satisfied both Leipzig, who were looking for a sizable transfer fee, and Werner himself, who was eager for a new challenge. All in all, the move was finalized just over a week after Liverpool withdrew their interest in Werner; a testament to Chelsea’s shrewd negotiating.
They may not have had the money to sign Werner, but Liverpool went on to spend around €80 million on Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcântara and Konstantinos Tsimikas. Similarly, Arsenal had refused to pay Thomas Partey’s €50 million release clause throughout the transfer window. The club clearly deemed the clause (which had to be paid up front) too costly.
However, on transfer deadline day Arsenal relented and triggered the release clause. Both clubs serve as a reminder that even as a global pandemic brings the world to a halt, football remains persistent. Fans have continued to demand that their club show ‘ambition’ in the summer transfer window, even as these same clubs were swimming in a sea of lost revenue, and struggling to balance the books.
As for Chelsea, with their bottomless pit of financial resources and the shrewd Marina Granovskaia operating behind the scenes, not to mention the efficient super coach Thomas Tuchel at the helm, they will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in this depressed market. This is in stark contrast to a club like Barcelona which has no such wallet to call upon and whose decision making is incredibly dysfunctional at the moment.Written by Dylan (Follow us on @pythaginboots)
Raees aka ‘Pythag’ is the Founder and Creative Director of Pythagoras in Boots. He was a football coach at West Bromwich Albion and is a lifelong Manchester United fan and an all-round sports obsessive.