West London clubs in trouble

NOT the happiest of times for London's two West London Premiership clubs, Chelsea and Fulham. Chelsea Village, the name given to the complex of hotels and restaurants built by Chairman Ken Bates behind the old Shed stand at Stamford Bridge, has a colossal debt of 95 million. Ken says "it's all perfectly all right and catered for", but you do begin to wonder, especially when you hear the manager, Claudio Ranieri, complaining that "it is precisely because of the Chelsea Village debts that he cannot spend any money on new players". Indeed he is clearly condemned to let them go.

It was known quite a while ago that Chelsea were prepared to sell their star striker, the Dutch international, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. It is now known that they are ready to transfer his strike partner, the excellent, incisive Icelandic international, Eidur Gudjohnsen. By the time you read this, either or both could have gone and though there is a fast rising star in the shape of the big, black 18-year-old Cole, he would have to carry a pretty heavy burden. Not qualifying for the European Champions Cup two seasons in a row has had a severe effect on Chelsea, the football club's finances.

Nor have things exactly been helped by the angry declaration of the young Italian midfielder, Sam Dall Boba, who has just been sold to Milan for a moderate fee by current standards, that Chelsea were lying when they said "he demanded to go back to Italy - he was signed for nothing as an Atalanta teenager - for family reasons". Not a bit of it says Sam; he demanded to be released because he was getting too few first team games.

The late Matthew Harding (killed in a helicopter crash), a millionaire insurance man with an amiable persona, a deep attachment to Chelsea, and an unhappy penchant for sometimes being drunk in public, clashed with Bates over what should be done with that area behind The Shed. Bates wanted to build, Harding whom he loathed wanted to keep Chelsea essentially a football club. What you hear about the business done by those hotels and restaurants does not suggest that they are flourishing and 95 million ain't hay as they say.

Then there is the mysterious matter of Stankey S. Tollman, now on the run from the American authorities who accuse him of a 32 million fraud involving hotels. For sometime he was a director of Chelsea and a business partner of Bates; against whom it should be said there is not a breath of any kind of suspicion. When Ken recently had a party to celebrate his 20 years at Chelsea, Tollman was a guest as indeed he was in Cardiff at the last Cup Final. People are wondering whether it is Tollman who holds or held substantial shares in Chelsea, whose owners have remained a mystery. Bates himself had meanwhile increased his Chelsea shareholding to over 29 per cent, the maximum he can possess without being obliged to bid for the whole number.

You can understand Ranieri's frustration but it was frankly a little hard to understand why the club, shortly before the final, should suddenly give him a full five year contract. On the basis of what, one wondered, especially after the final in which his errors - notably fielding a clearly unfit Hasselbaink - arguably played a large part in his team's defeat by Arsenal. The trouble now is that the club could become trapped in a vicious circle. The more stars they are forced to sell the less hope they have of qualifying for the money-making European competitions and the worse their financial plight becomes.

Meanwhile, Fulham, with the enormously wealthy Mohamed Fayed, proprietor of the famous Harrods store in Knightbridge, are in increasing difficulty; even if Fayed seems quite untroubled by their recently published 24 million loss, the largest ever recorded by an English club. Last season after decades of absence Fulham managed at length to return to the top division, spending huge sums of Fayed's money in the hope of succeeding there. They had a successful middle season period and did well in the F.A. Cup but by the end of the season they were floundering and, this pre season, I watched them twice, looking embarrassingly impotent against weak opposition in the Intertoto Cup, the gateway to the UEFA Cup competition.

Fulham now move to share the Queens Park Rangers ground in Shepherd's Bush, with their delightful Craven Cottage stadium down by the Thames due for demolition and rebuilding, over a two-year period. But now there are doubts whether this will ever happen, such will be the colossal expense of the undertaking. There are rumours that Fulham could abandon the idea and seek to build a new ground in Shepherd's Bush; presumably within shouting distance of the Queens Park Rangers stadium in Lofthus Road! And then there is the problem of the manager.

At present he is the former French midfield star and manager of Monaco and Lyon, Jean Tigana, who took Fulham up to the Premiership in a blaze of glory, much praised for the new French methods of diet and training he introduced. But it is clear that Fayed not unnaturally has lost patience with him and the team. This summer he brought in Franco Baresi, once the central defensive hero of Italy and Milan, as so called Director of Football. An unhappy Tigana recently demanded a meeting with Fayed to talk about his situation. His contract runs out at the end of this season and he cannot be happy with Baresi's presence.

But why Baresi? A great player certainly but he has no coaching credentials of any substance, being employed in a subsidiary role by Milan. There one hears from Italy he was put out by failing to be chosen as club President in succession to its owner, Silvio Berlusconi, now Prime Minister of Italy itself. It's rumoured that the way was blocked by Milan's chief executive and proxy for Berlusconi, Soriano Galliani. Baresi doesn't even at the moment speak English so quite why anyone would think him a suitable man to replace Tigana, who can say?

Moreover not only have Harrods been returning negative financial results, but Fayed has been told by the Inland Revenue that a previous arrangement in calculating his taxes must now end, meaning that they will go up substantially. Yet Fulham have been able to shell out over 2 million for a ponderous Argentine striker in Facundo Saca and have offered 3 million for the Dutch left winger Victor Sikora. Japan's World Cup star Junichi Inamoto and the French stopper, Martin Djetou of Parma, have both arrived on loan. Tigana and Fayed will doubtless hope they can enable the team to score the goals which, for all their costly talent, so strangely elude them.