Chelsea’s economy drive continues

Published : Jan 17, 2009 00:00 IST

The extent of the economising at Stamford Bridge has surprised club insiders, who describe the restrictions on complimentary tickets as “petty”. By Duncan Castles.

Disgruntled Chelsea players received an unwelcome New Year’s gift from Roman Abramovich when the club’s economy drive was extended to complimentary tickets. First-teamers have had their allocation of free tickets halved to four a game, starting with the FA Cup third-round tie against Southend. Other employees have also seen the long-standing perk pared back in the latest bout of economising by a club once famous for their prodigious spending.

Chelsea have ceded that mantle to Manchester City this season, allowing the Abu Dhabi-backed club first to outbid them for Brazil forward Robinho then raid their squad for England left-back Wayne Bridge. With Luiz Felipe Scolari instructed to sell before buying, the fee for Bridge is needed to fund January reinforcements.

The extent of the economising at Stamford Bridge has surprised club insiders, who describe the restrictions on complimentary tickets as “petty”. The latest measure will increase match day revenues by a few thousand pounds yet risks upsetting those individuals most important to Chelsea’s sporting and financial success. Accustomed to the larger allocations, several players will now have difficulty sourcing tickets for friends and family. The club allows them to buy up to 10 more tickets, but the cost is deducted directly from their wages.

The restrictions are the latest product of a comprehensive audit of the club’s expenditure. Since October, Chelsea have mothballed a series of seven-figure construction and refurbishment projects at the stadium and training ground, instructed employees they must pay for replacement club clothing, and published certain club literature in electronic format only to trim costs. Further economies remain under consideration, including a proposal to charge players for meals at the training ground.

Chelsea officials say the savings are part of an ongoing review of costs in response to the credit crunch. Chief executive Peter Kenyon has announced the club’s intention to operate without the need for additional funding from Abramovich by July this year. The club’s last set of accounts detailed “cash-negative spending” of £83.6m for the year to July 2007. At that point Chelsea also owed their owner £578m in interest-free loans repayable on 18 months’ notice.

Abramovich’s representatives insist the cutbacks are completely unrelated to multi-billion-pound losses the Russian has suffered during the economic downturn. In November, his most important stock market investment, the multi-national steel company Evraz, received a $1.8 billion loan from the Russian state as concerns grew it was about to default on short-term debts.

Recently, Evraz announced the curtailment of its previously generous dividend policy “to ensure prudent cash management in the current challenging market environment.” Doubts over Abramovich’s liquidity have grown to the extent that Chelsea supporters have begun discussing the possibility of him selling a club who continue to require significant cash funding.

Didier Drogba has not been informed by Chelsea of any disciplinary action to be taken over an interview he gave to ‘France Football’ magazine; neither does he expect to be fined for it.

Drogba says he has had no problem with his team-mates over comments on a lack of support from the club when he lost his grandmother last summer, which were far less inflammatory in the original French. Chelsea say it is not their policy to discuss any internal disciplinary measures.

Ben Sahar will spend the rest of the season on loan at De Graafschap, the Dutch club have announced.

The 19-year-old Chelsea striker, who spent the first-half of the campaign on loan at Portsmouth, will join his new team-mates for a winter training camp in Turkey.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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