I used to get really worked up for the semi-annual encounters between the Liverpool and Chelsea football clubs. In the first decade of this millennium Chelsea represented everything that was vulgar and wrong about football. Here was a club that lived well beyond its means for years, was forced to sell the land under its stadium to ensure that property developers wouldn’t swoop down like vultures in the event the club was declared insolvent, and indeed was minutes from being put into administration before being purchased in 2003 by the corrupt, thieving Russian oil & gas billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Every success Abramovich has purchased for Chelsea since 2003 is illegitimate because it was all acquired using the stolen mineral resource wealth of the Russian people. By comparison, Liverpool was a paragon of virtue and social justice during its benevolent ownership by the Moores family, heirs to the Littlewoods business fortune. The epic encounters between Liverpool and Chelsea in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League in 2005, 2007, and 2009 cemented the sporting rivalry between the clubs, but by 2007 the lines of good and evil had begun to blur.
Everything about Chelsea was as despicable as ever, but Liverpool’s owners made the terrible mistake of selling the club to Tom Hicks, a relic of the Greenspan-era easy money leveraged buyout anarcho-libertarian fever dream and a fundraiser for the known war criminal George W. Bush. While Hicks and his buffoonish co-owner George Gillett squabbled publicly and ran Liverpool to the brink of insolvency, supporters of decency in football had to rely on the lesser evil of Manchester United to stand in the way of Abramovich’s ultimate ambition: the UEFA Champions League trophy.
Today, both clubs find themselves in transition to uncertain futures. Liverpool have regained competent ownership and management but haven’t won a league title for twenty years and can’t afford the new stadium they need to generate the revenue necessary to be maximally competitive in a league without socialist American fabrications like revenue sharing, drafts, or salary caps. Although their trophy-starved fans will disagree, Liverpool’s ownership can take a long view to their rebuilding project because their fanbase (and potential for generating revenue) is enormous.
Chelsea’s situation is more desperate. They also need to build a new stadium and must sell their Stamford Bridge home (which sits on prime real estate) to do so, but they can’t. Furthermore, new UEFA Financial Fair Play rules that prohibit unprofitable clubs from playing in lucrative European competition mean that even Abramovich’s ill-gotten billions won’t necessarily be able to finance adequate replacements for Chelsea’s aging squad. Indeed, if they fail to qualify for the Champions League for even one season the entire club could collapse upon itself in an avalanche of red ink.
A plastic club with plastic fans, Chelsea will crumble as soon as Abramovich loses interest or finds himself on the wrong side of the Russian political power elite. The high-flying Manchester City, a club owned by the emirs of Qatar that just posted a one-year loss of $300 million, is in the same situation. Like Chelsea on horse steroids, Manchester City takes vulgarity to a level that can only be realized by oil-drenched Arabs. These toy clubs are unsustainable and your correspondent will delight in their downfall with a schadenfreude even Ze Germans could appreciate.
Against Liverpool, Chelsea played like a club that knew its best days were behind it. The once-stingy defense was a comedy of errors for Liverpool’s first goal and out to lunch for the second. They now find themselves level on points with Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place, 12 points behind first place Manchester City and in real danger of letting qualification for next season’s Champions League slip away. Good riddance.