11 February ~ It is mid-February and Chelsea are clinging onto fourth place. The team is a little too dependent on some ageing stars, but also in possession of some talented young players. Claudio Ranieri is under pressure to guide his side into the 2003-04 Champions League competition. Nine years, a Russian oligarch's investment, six managers and three Premier League titles later, and, on the surface, surprisingly little has changed. Other Premier League teams could finish in the same position as they did in the 2002-03 season: Manchester United (first), Liverpool (fifth), Fulham (14th), Aston Villa (16th), Bolton (17th), West Brom (19th). But none of these has had £1 billion pumped into them.
Chelsea supporters could be forgiven for wondering if we are any better off. Obviously, if we merely look at our league position, which sees the Blues outside the top three and facing a tough battle for fourth, no progress has been made. However tempting this simple conclusion may be for pessimistic fans and opportunistic rivals, it does not tell the whole story.
Sticking with matters on the field, the quality of the Premier League has improved over the past decade. This Chelsea side would be clear favourites to beat the 2003 team, and possibly even the sides that finished above them. In Europe, Ranieri's team crashed out in the first round of the UEFA Cup to Viking Stavanger, while André Villas-Boas has taken his players to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Financially, the club recently recorded losses of £68 million for the year to July 31, 2011. This does not make good reading – especially with FIFA's financial fair play standards looming – but £28m can be attributed to the summer's managerial upheaval. In addition, it was revealed this week that Chelsea's revenues of £210m are sixth highest in the world – up from tenth (£112m) in 2003.
If Chelsea fail to qualify for next season's Champions League and Abramovich decides he has had enough, things could crash and burn. But this seems unlikely and neglects Chelsea's largest gain from the past nine years – experience. The club has played in the Champions League before and, having only once finished outside the top two in the Premier League, knows how to get there.
Abramovich also has gained from his venture. His transfers, Fernando Torres aside, have generally proved more shrewd recently and he also looks to have more patience for managers. The club has spent a reported £64m on managerial changes over the past four years, but Villas-Boas appears confident of retaining his job into next season.
Despite the temptation to state grandly that the Russian has wasted his money, that Chelsea have wasted their time and that this sordid experiment has yielded no progress, this is clearly not the case. William Turvill