Controversial arrangement in Netherlands
6 December ~ After claiming three consecutive Eredivisie titles, Ajax have competition this season in the form of Vitesse Arnhem, who currently lead the table by two points. They were championship runners-up six times between 1898 and 1915, in the days when the title was decided by play-offs. Since then the club have largely performed without distinction, and also flirted with bankruptcy on a couple of occasions, but a change of ownership in 2010 has brought an upturn in fortune and also plenty of controversy.
Former Georgian international and successful businessman Merab Jordania swept in to the club and claimed that they would win the title and compete in the Champions League within three years. As the Eredivisie's first foreign owner, his involvement naturally generated plenty of interest. It was not long before Jordania's links with Chelsea's Roman Abramovich and his associate Alexander Chigirinsky, a fellow Russian billionaire, became apparent.
Since then, a steady stream of Chelsea youngsters and fringe players have been loaned to Vitesse and significantly improved their fortunes. The first batch included Nemanja Matic, Slobodan Rajkovic and Matej Delac, as Arnhem flirted with relegation. They finished seventh and fourth in subsequent campaigns, again inspired by exports from west London. This season their table-topping team features six Chelsea players.
Their impressive form this term has also coincided with Jordania selling his shares to Chigirinsky in October, fuelling the theory that the Russian was driving the regime from behind the scenes all along. With designs on adding a further three Chelsea players in January, opposition to this arrangement is becoming more vociferous, as some critics believe the integrity of the league is at stake. Legislation has been proposed to limit the number of loan signings from any one club to three but, as it stands, Vitesse and Chelsea are adhering to the rules, regardless of the questionable ethics involved.
Chelsea also benefit in a number of ways from having such strong links with a feeder club. In the age of financial fair play, the need to produce their own players has never been more pronounced and they are able to using Vitesse as a finishing school. Their players benefit from regular first-team football in a technically proficient league, with excellent coaching and facilities. They also have first refusal on the players produced by Vitesse and exercised that privilege in the summer by signing talented midfielder Marco van Ginkel. They can also station players in the Netherlands in order to obtain a work permit, as they have with recent signing Christian Atsu, a recent acquisition from Porto.
A recent 3-0 win for Vitesse at Go Ahead Eagles, with goals scored by loanees Lucas Piazón and Gaël Kakuta, highlighted Chelsea's influence. Chelsea's involvement will only increase with Marina Granovskaia, a long-term advisor of Abramovich and current Chelsea board member, believed to be set for a role in Vitesse's business operations. Should Vitesse Arnhem maintain their fine form and qualify for the Champions League, UEFA would be faced with a clear conflict of interest. Scott Johnson