“Champions League football, just because you don’t make it one year – it’s one year. I don’t see that as a real problem”, in the words of Harry Redknapp, a week before he was sacked by Spurs chief Daniel Levy.
Even at the time these ill-advised words seemed like the final nail in Redknapp’s coffin. So has Di Matteo, by admitting he would be focusing on domestic competitions, put his foot in it? How important are European competitions?
With the implementation of UEFA’s fair play initiative, finely balancing a club’s finances has never been so important to owners (particularly in Abramovich’s case). Champions’ League qualification and progression is extremely lucrative, with Chelsea earning a record breaking £45 million from their triumph last season in prize money and TV deals – and it seems as if the record is re-broken with each passing year.
Redknapp’s comment that it’s “not a problem” was in reference to the club’s ability to sign top players, attempting to cut through the fallacy that playing in the ECL is, for the individual, a deal-breaker. Unfortunately for him, the comments actually indicate the sort of blasé attitude that no top European side can afford to tolerate. Then again, we can hardly be surprised with Redknapp’s lack of concern for financial stability – anyone remember what happened to Pompey?
The importance of Chelsea’s qualification for next season’s Champions’ League cannot be understated. Failure to win the final would have seen an 8 figure sum of money vanish from the club’s projected earnings, with possible catastrophic implications on their future participation in the tournament. They certainly would not have been able to make the high profile signings of players such as Oscar or Edin Hazard, and may have found themselves in desperate need of reducing the wage bill.
Abramovich will be aware that it was a close shave, and one that they cannot afford to repeat again. Clubs like Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal and Man City will draw up their financial projections based on at least qualifying for this tournament; one year of failure puts a huge dent in their plans. In fact, one major concern regarding the new UEFA financial laws is that it will produce a vicious cycle in which clubs that fail to qualify for the ECL are permanently cut adrift, as they are excluded from its vast profits and forbidden from pumping their own cash into the club for an initial boost. Finish outside the top four for a couple of seasons, and you could very easily be cut off from the elite.
As such, Di Matteo will certainly be told he must focus as much on Europe as the league – although in fairness, his remarks have been somewhat taken out of context by the Mail; he merely suggested they need to breach the 25 point gap with Man City, rather than explicitly suggesting the ECL is of less concern.
Of course, focusing on breaching the gap would lead to a stronger league finish – and hence Champions’ League qualification – but unfortunately the issue is slightly more complex than that. Last season the difference between finishing 1st and 4th in the EPL was £2.3 million. In the ECL, the difference between Man Utd (who were knocked out in the group stage) and Chelsea (the winners) was £17 million.
Financially, it makes more sense for a club to balance a top four finish with Champions’ League success, rather than strive for the league title and sidetrack the ECL. Naturally, there are other variables at work here – Abramovich gauges success by winning trophies, not money, and it obviously isn’t as clear cut as ‘we’ll focus on this cup and not that cup’, either. Even so, it does prove that there is no way Chelsea, or any other club in the ECL for that matter, can afford anything other than straining their resources to compete in the Champions’ League.
If Di Matteo does believe the Champions’ League can be put to one side to focus on a title challenge, then I’m sure the Chelsea board will sit him down and have a word. Unfortunately for Harry Redknapp, it was already past that point.
Alex Keble is the editor of www.thechalkboard.org.uk, a website that gives in-depth tactical analysis of the weekend’s football action, offering match reports with statistics, diagrams, and intellectual insight into the modern game. Follow @ak_chalkboard.Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more notifications!