Sunday, July 12, 2020
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Billed as the battle of the billionaires, yesterday’s match between Chelsea and Manchester City highlighted just how far the Premier League’s nuveau riche have to go to achieve a place amongst football’s elite. Although a pauper in comparison, it’s unlikely the golden alarm bells will be ringing in Roman Abramovic’s ivory tower.

There are certain similarities between the multi-million pound takeovers in Chelsea and Manchester, but there are more telling differences. City fans would do well to err on the side of caution and expect a slower rise to the top than Abramovic has brought about at Chelsea.

Firstly, Abramovic bought a club that were already in the Champion’s League. This meant Chelsea were instantly in the position to attract world class players and succeed on the biggest stage. The fact that they got to the semi-final of the tournament during his first year set the benchmark and ensured Chelsea were taken seriously by rivals and potential transfer targets alike.

Manchester City will not qualify for the Champion’s League this season and are unlikely to do so for at least 3 or 4 years. As long as they are not in the Champion’s League they will struggle to attract the kind of players they require to meet their lofty goals. Anyone willing to move to Eastlands will be doing so on the basis of a huge wage and no European football – not the kind of players upon which a great team is built.

The second major difference between the Arab and Russian oil money is the men behind it. Roman Abramovic loves football. In Russia he provides philanthropic financial support to all levels of the game. His money is lavished from grass roots initiatives through to international football. At Chelsea he has been as dedicated to establishing a top youth academy, world-class training facilities and a global scouting network as he has to building the first team.

Although he has made some transfer faux-pas's, he’s also invested big money in young hungry prospects. The likes of Petr Cech, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben were all unproven at the highest level before moving to Stamford Bridge. They are now some of the best players in the world.

The Russian found out the expensive way – in the form of Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo and Andrei Shevchenko – that big money, big name signings, rarely work out.

On arrival City’s new owners reeled off last season’s top 5 Premier League goalscorers, as well as European Champions Spain's David Villa and Cesc Fabregas, as their transfer targets. They may have intended to let everyone know they were the new kids on the block – the signing of Robinho certainly did that – but it also highlighted their naivety and suggested a slap-shod approach to building a team.

Whereas Abramovic is a one man band, answering only to his particular whims, Abu Dhabi United Group is a consortium of unknown numbers. The Gillette-Hicks debacle has highlighted the difficulties of a joint venture when hundreds of millions of pounds are at stake. Multiply the number of people and the amount of money and the woes are also likely to multiply.

Although the collective worth of these Arabs is staggering, the £1 billion supposedly earmarked for transfer fees is not small change for anyone – least of all successful businessmen. Although their stated aims for the ‘Manchester City Brand’ are big, it’s unlikely they’ll see a substantial return on their investment any time soon.

By lighting an oil-fuelled fire beneath the big 4, the Arabs’ attempts to sheikh up the existing order are a welcome threat to the status-quo. Piping black gold is their business and they plundered some from beneath the Russian’s nose with the signing of Robinho on deadline day.

However, the Abu Dhabi United Group should bear in mind that although it has bought them love at the middle-Eastlands, money doesn’t necessarily buy you success on the pitch. If they are serious about their aims for the club they would do well to take a leaf or two from the Russian billionaire's (cheque) book.

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