As ever, you have to appreciate the undeniable dramatic energy of football. This week there was an element of perfect comic timing in the coincidence of two events. First the news that the proposals for football governance and ownership are to be published, with the usual hedged and cautious talk about regulation and suitability and non-monetary values.
And secondly the simultaneous spasms of the end of the window of Todd Boehly, stumbling out of his chinchilla fur helicopter gun, torso caked in vintage parmesan cheese dust, solid gold bowler hat askew, wanting more dancing horses, more music, ever. -more clouds of captive butterflies. Except, hang on. You, uh, trying to stop me from doing what? What industry do you want to regulate? Relaunching Pegasus. Shoot up the silver gun. We are riding to Lisbon.
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So far the reaction to six months of black swan spending at Chelsea has been based on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. That megadeath transfer window certainly makes it easier for the rest of football to bleak the Premier League, which is probably long overdue, and a rational response to the fact that talent, expertise, coaching skills and basic human interest are now drawn in relentlessly. orbit
On the other hand, Chelsea’s splurge has certainly been good for the transfer speculation industry. By overpaying for young players drafts of ready money have been made available to the same clubs that the Premier League is squeezing at the same time. Apologists and free-market ultras will say, hey, this is a punchish and sassy sign of good health.
This is just how they do business in the US of friggin’Apeople told us that they don’t know how to do business in the United States, where successful investors tend to try to understand their markets, be smarter, not smarter, then everyone else in the room .
But hey, keep staring at Boehly who is undoubtedly a very entertaining character and a front man, with the appearance of the last surviving minor member of some supergroup in the 60s who made millions playing the bass and who is not dying, and is now free to sit. around a beach studio in California fiddling with a mixing desk in BBC Four documentaries and talking about his collection of Etruscan agricultural whelks.
The most frightening thing, perhaps, is the complete lack of doubt, the immediate boomer-style conviction that only he, Todd Boehly, knows how this European football industry thing that he has never looked at to resolve. Remember when Romelu Lukaku was “the final piece” in the Chelsea jigsaw? Boehly has snapped that puzzle and tossed it out of a hot-air balloon while grinning brightly in a stovepipe hat and tailcoat, and then completed another puzzle in its entirety. Except when you try to put it together it’s not a jigsaw puzzle at all, it’s a pair of shoes made of diamonds and Todd Boehly is breathing down your neck, pushing you with the ferrule of his riding stick and crying about tired old corporate structures and the. ossified European mind.
Could this really work? The thinking out there is that what we’re seeing is master plan stuff. Never mind wage bills, staffing and huge liabilities. Chelsea are really changing the paradigm. The multi-club model is being talked about. The same with an unbeatable transfer committee, made up of the Brighton guys, the Southampton man, Guy Monaco and the new director of football, Christopher Vivell, who was very enthusiastic to discover Chelsea’s “clear and sustainable philosophy”, probably half way through the 12. One hour peyote trance.
The most obvious problem with this philosophy – buy young talent and hope it becomes more valuable – is that Chelsea have already tried and are now selling the last crop at a discount. Another flaw is that there is no clear market to sell this product on. Nobody is paying Chelsea prices except Chelsea, who are at the top, not the bottom, of the money tree, who basically need another Chelsea, dumb Chelsea, to pay this new Smart Chelsea market rate.
Right now none of this becomes clearer the more you look at it, in that speculating about whether this is good or bad is just missing the point. Of which there is no logic here. What Chelsea have done is not a gamble, or a bold new approach. It is simply incomprehensible. A bad plan is still a plan. But this thing has no mathematics, no model that works in the abstract of what we know now.
And this is strange. Boehly has a background in hedge financing and the most important quality is to make sure you have inside information, that you are ahead of the punters. But here he is wandering around the halls of a casino infested with football sharks with a big bag of money asking how you play blackjack. It is not rational. If this was your fund manager you would fire him.
There are only two real possibilities here. Boehly is a hyper-incompetent old-fashioned chairman, a football is sure to explode under his hand, just as the really smart Americans seem to be leaving the building. Or there is some element that is out of sight.
There are probably two things worth saying about this. The first is the complete destruction of confidence in football governance. If the recent hallucinatory events in Chelsea’s boardroom tell us anything, it’s that things are likely to be unbelievable or impossible. What are we not seeing here? On a point of principle it is always worth asking who would spend their own money like this, and why.
What is certain is that Chelsea will be fun and exciting to watch, in the way that an explosion in a firework factory is fun and exciting. And because English football is slowly talking about ownership tests and transparency this is already the global wild west. Accountability, regulation, values beyond profit and loss – these things have long since left the table. It is the Boehly-ism instead that has a grip on the future of football; which, if we read this show correctly, could look very different before long.