Tuesday 15 April ~
Emile Heskey's 90th-minute goal at Stamford Bridge last night may well have cost Chelsea the League title. Even if they win at Everton on Thursday, which is quite likely given the stuttering form of David Moyes's injury-hit side, Man Utd would regain a five-point lead with three matches to go with a win against Blackburn on Saturday. The fact that Chelsea have to play two matches in three days clearly affected Avram Grant's planning last night, as Joe Cole started on the bench in order to be fresh for Thursday while Ricardo Carvalho and Ashley Cole were left out altogether. Then again, rotation policies are luxuries that only the wealthiest clubs can afford. So, tough luck.
Chelsea have made clear their unhappiness at the scheduling of the Wigan and Everton games, broadcast by Setanta and Sky respectively. They have also made PR capital out of it by offering their fans free tickets and travel to Goodison Park on Thursday. In a way it is understandable that Chelsea might feel especially aggrieved by having to fall in line with the demands of the broadcasters, because TV revenues matter less to them than any other club. There has been speculation that Roman Abramovich will authorise the spending of £100 million on the squad in the summer, possibly more if they fail to win a trophy this season and start 2008-09 with a new manager. However much as Chelsea employees such as chief executive Peter Kenyon try to make out that the club is run as a business, for as long as Abramovich remains the owner, it is simply an indulgence for one of the wealthiest individuals in Europe.
Abramovich may have been attracted to English football by the international profile it has developed in the Sky era. Indeed, he nearly made a bid for Spurs before alighting on Chelsea. But unlike the Glazers and their squabbling countrymen at Liverpool, he isn't here to line his pockets, just to empty them periodically before they fill up again with revenue from his controlling interest in some of Russia's natural resources.
Television does of course wield an undue, and largely damaging, influence on English football. Premier League clubs who whine about TV should expect no sympathy generally because it has generated enormous revenues to be blown on transfers and salaries, for club officials as well as players. But the overriding reason that Chelsea are even in the position to juggle a large squad, with important domestic and European game coming up, is because they are a billionaire's plaything. Any club that has been showered with good fortune as they have can't expect a sympathetic reception when something goes against them now and again.