Chelsea's acquisitive policy

ALMOST concurrently, it was announced that Chelsea were signing Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips for �21 million and that their billionaire-owner Roman Abramovich was being sued in a court in the English colony of St. Vincent; for billions. Sued by another "oligarch" called Chalva Tchigrinski who despises him for all his astronomical wealth. "Abramovich is silent, primitive, provincial," he declares. Alleging that his British based firm, Sibir, has been swindled out of 49% of the shares it held in an oil company formed jointly with Sibneft.

Sibir, backed by major British organisations such as Prudential Insurance, believe their mysteriously missing shares to be worth two billion dollars. They are demanding that these shares be placed in the custody of a court receiver plus another billion dollars' worth of assets. And, perhaps most crucially and potentially sensational of all, they demand a complete account of his assets.

Quite how Abramovich made such vast sums of money so fast is still something of a mystery, though we do know that like the other so-called oligarchs, including his former now alienated mentor Boris Berezovsky, he owed much to the patronage of the ex-President Boris Yeltsin and his formidable daughter, enabling him and the others to lend money to major State enterprises and buy them back relatively on the cheap.

But whereas Berezovsky, like the recent imprisoned — for nine years — Mikhail Khodokorsky fell out with the autocratic President Putin, Abramovich, who is recently reported to have given him a yacht, has managed to remain in favour.

The Wright-Phillips deal only goes to emphasise the ruthlessly acquisitive Chelsea policy. Insisting that he had no wish to leave Manchester City, the highly talented young outside-right, who is already an England player, suddenly pleaded illness before City were to play a pre-season friendly, dropped out of the game and asked to speak to Chelsea. Who proceeded to buy him for �21 million, to City's bitter dismay; even if it will do something to decrease their debt of �60 million.

You now wonder how Chelsea are going to accommodate all that winger talent, for as we know they already have two of the finest in Europe in the shape of Ireland's Damien Duff and Holland's Arjen Robben. Not to mention Joe Cole, essentially a central midfielder used however, on the flanks by Mourinho, who had just warned him in the club's newspaper that he would have to fight for a place. Now what?

Oh, and matters have been further complicated by an outburst from the �24 million centre-forward Didier Drogba publicly complaining how he suffered last season, being obliged, he says, constantly to drop deep to help his defence. Not the first time that Mourinho has been criticised for his caution.

But `Mourinho The Mouth' has latterly provoked still more controversy with an attack on the Football Association, who recently fined him �200,000 for his part in endeavouring to seduce the England left-back Ashley Cole away from Arsenal. Now Mourinho protests that because the Gunners' hyperactive Vice-President David Dein sits on a senior FA Committee, he has been able to give Arsenal favoured nation treatment when it comes to next season's European Cup fixtures, since they will be able to play their subsequent games at home, while Chelsea will be away. The FA have predictably denied this and wrapped Chelsea over the knuckles, but the club has supported Mourinho.

In can now exploit the parallel case of Arsenal and the Brazilian international striker, Julio Baptista of Seville. Recently, Dein and the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger flew out to Sao Paolo to speak to Julio, having previously offered the Spanish club, �13.75 million for him; a quarter of a million more than they had just agreed to be paid by Juventus for Patrick Vieira. Seville reacted with fury, but Wenger somewhat unconvincingly replied that Arsenal had already made their offer to Baptista and that it was normal in such circumstances for a club to find out how such a player felt!

Quite how this legally or morally differed from Chelsea's blatant attempt to secure Ashley Cole, when Mourinho and the chief executive Peter Kenyon met him and two agents in the Lancaster Gate hotel just round the corner from where the FA had their offices for so many years, I find it difficult to know. Arsenal were incensed, saw to it that the Premiership brought the offenders to book, inflicting those heavy fine on Mourinho, Chelsea and Cole himself. What's sauce for the goose is presumably sauce for the gander, and it is hard to understand why, after all the hubbub over Ashley Cole, Arsenal should behave like that.

You might also ask why the Gunners, having at last agreed to sell Patrick Vieira after those summers of brinkmanship when he seemed sure to join Real Madrid, should be so ready to let him go. One theory is that though he is still only 29, they felt they had had the best of him, after what had been, for him, a relatively disappointing season. But it will be horribly hard, after 10 years, to find any midfielder with the same tremendous power, athleticism and drive. Wenger has said again somewhat unconvincingly, that young players can always emerge, that when Vieira himself arrived he wasn't known. But Vieira when he came from Milan cost a cool �3.5 million and was already a French under-21 international. Hardly what you might call an unknown quantity.