Following the decision of FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (“DRC”) on Thursday to ban Chelsea from signing any players until January 2011, much of the fallout has been concerned with the sanctions and the grounds of the decision. For many this is totally unheard of and so the reasoning is immediately being called into question. Once Chelsea fans have digested the legalities their main concern will be the impact on the team.
The sanctions imposed by the DRC on the club are the ban on transfers and the “training compensation” of £114 000 payable to the French club Lens. The player involved, French winger Gael Kakuta, has also been ordered to pay his former employers £682 000 for breach of his contract. This is all on the grounds of the player having broken his contract with Lens in 2007 in order to join the Stamford Bridge outfit, who in turn induced this breach of contract. The precedent for a case of this nature was set by the DRC when punishing Swiss club FC Sion in April for a similar offence. FC Sion is currently appealing the decision with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Lausanne which has resulted in the ban being temporarily lifted until the appeal is heard. This is something which Chelsea themselves plan to do. If the appeal is upheld, this precedent will have far reaching consequences for many of Europe’s top clubs. But what will the immediate consequences be for one of England’s top clubs?
Chelsea’s activity in the transfer market this season in relation to incoming players has been relatively quiet compared to previous campaigns, with the £18million signing of Yuri Zhirkov and the deal for Daniel Sturridge the only notable acquisitions. This signifies some stability within the squad which has already been shown this season with the Londoners sitting top of the table, but the worrying thing for all Chelsea fans is the average age within the squad. This was something which was criticised a year ago by Sir Alex Ferguson with a hint of gamesmanship from the wily Scot, but a year on there is some truth that the Chelsea squad are not getting any younger. Without the ability to freshen things up and bring in new faces, this may leave the squad in a poor position both at home and in Europe.
If we switch focus to the players who have left Stamford Bridge this summer many of these have been younger players going out on loan to so called lesser clubs to gain some first team experience. The likes of Michael Mancienne and Fabio di Santo have gone to Premier League clubs in the shape of Wolves and Blackburn respectively but it may be back with the Stamford Bridge outfit where they will be seen over the next season and a half. If Chelsea are to suffer some serious injuries to key players over the next 18 months or so then they may well have to start relying on the products of their youth system – something which we have not seen the club need to do since Roman Abramovic’s takeover. This could provide an interesting twist to this season’s title race as they will also lose key players such as Michael Essien and Didier Drogba for the African Cup of Nations early in 2010. This coupled with the World Cup in the summer could leave them depleted come the start of the 2010/11 campaign.
Chelsea have been fortunate to tie both Ashley Cole and John Terry to long term deals in the last few weeks prior to this decision which was undoubtedly shrewd business as the club may have been expecting this to come along. One player who they haven’t signed up again is Nicolas Anelka. His contract expires next summer and with Drogba away for a slice of the season on international duty and no other recognised goal scorer, Anelka’s stock at Chelsea has suddenly risen quite considerably. He is in a perfect position to negotiate a new contract to ensure he becomes one of the clubs top earners, despite the policy of not opening talks with players in their 30’s until the last season of their contract, due to the slim nature of new boss Carlo Ancelotti’s striking options. It would be unfair to describe Anelka as a mercenary but his behaviour at previous clubs suggests he is savvy when it comes to money and wouldn’t miss out on an opportunity such as this.
Chelsea’s playing staff may currently be stable but that is not to say that their coaching staff has been over the last couple of seasons. Ancelotti is starting his first season as Chelsea manager and already we have seen a different formation from the Italian than the team which finished last season so strongly under Guus Hiddink. The former Milan boss prefers the diamond formation in midfield with Frank Lampard spearheading this further forward than he is used to and often with Essien operating on the right flank – a position which he has looked uncomfortable with and clearly does not get the best out of the Ghanaian. There is no doubt that Chelsea have started well this season and have at times looked very fluid in the middle of the park, especially against Burnley at Stamford Bridge but they have also seemed to be rather laboured. They have been linked over the summer with both Andrea Pirlo and Alexander Pato from Ancelotti’s former club Milan and with neither of them now able to join in the immediate future we may see Chelsea at times continuing to struggle with the new formation or the new boss having to adapt his favoured style to his new club.
What we are dealing with here is a top four side which has consistently performed well domestically and abroad with largely the squad of players they currently have, so there may not be an immediate effect. What may happen is that slight chinks appear in the armour both of the playing staff and the policies of the club which will require immediate attention from within the club.
As the decision stands at the moment all the mentioned problems may become apparent for the Blues but if the case follows the same route as the only other previous case of its kind and is suspended depending the decision of the Cas on appeal then it is likely that Chelsea will at least gain some breathing space to bring in some new faces should the Russian owner allow this. However, the decision in the FC Sion case is expected later this year prior to the next transfer window so the team from Stamford Bridge may well understand their fate before the window even opens. How close to the facts of Chelsea’s situation is that of the FC Sion case isn’t completely known, so the Cas may still hear the appeal even if they rule against FC Sion which could provide Chelsea with the necessary breathing space. How the Cas will decide is a subject of hot debate and the only conclusions which we can draw from their previous decisions is that they are not always lenient when it comes to a player having breached his contract in contravention of FIFA rules – just ask Adrian Mutu.
Gael Kakuta in action