Andre Villas-Boas, freshly departed Chelsea manager, kept repeating, like a religious mantra, that he was working on a project and needed more time. To be very cynical I suspect his real project was not so much to revamp an aging Chelsea side, but to model himself as the next Jose Mourinho, complete with multi-million pound sponsorship deals and a host of top football clubs tripping over themselves for the services of the Special One Mark Two. If football was his real passion why not stay at Porto and create a whole new era of Portuguese footballing success rather than just one fruitful season?

 

To be less cynical we can conjecture that AVB simply couldn't control the Chelsea dressing room, complete as it is with gigantic player-power egos and all that goes with it. And Abromovich, being Abromovich, was not about to give AVB the time to rebuild a new squad formed in his own image once the results took a turn for the worse. Whether the AVB project would have seen a steady stream of young Chelsea Academy players flowing into first team football we will never know but all such conjecture is really beside the point. While Chelsea Football Club remains the plaything of Roman Abromovich nothing healthy can emerge at Stamford Bridge. Leopards do not change their spots and gangsters, no matter how fashionable their clothes, will forever remain gangsters. As for Chelsea, so for the rest of the increasingly corporatised and commercialised Premier League.

 

AVB was right about one thing. Chelsea FC, like all Premier League clubs, is in desperate need of a project and that project can be summed up in just a few words; the re-establishment of community control. Great football clubs, nay, all sporting clubs of any description, should no longer be judged solely by the pieces of silverware in the trophy cabinet but by the solidity of their community links. In the case of the big football clubs that can now only mean community share ownership, where one share equals one vote. Take a club like Manchester United. They claim to have millions of supporters world-wide and I'm sure they do. Suppose they issued shares worth an initial 100 per share with the added proviso that nobody could own more than one hundred shares, then they could conceivably take back financial control of their beloved club with nobody to answer to other than their world wide fan base. Repeat that for all clubs in the football league and you would transform back overnight English football from an increasingly empty corporate toy to a thing of real passion and local pride.

 

Barcelona has largely remained true to their local Catalan community and they produce some of the best football on the planet. 

 

Another measure of just how successful a sporting club is should be by the number of community teams they organise and sponsor. In the case of the big football clubs this should be measured in the hundreds and include boys and girls teams of all ages, teams for people with physical and learning disabilities and teams for working people who still have a simple love of the game. Clear pathways should be in place so that every kid can not only dream but have a realistic prospect of advancing up the club's playing pyramid. Likewise coaching, officiating and managerial type posts should be open and encouraged for the entire local community. Being a share owning member of a sports club could be about a whole lot more than forking out thousands of pounds for grossly overpriced season tickets. It should become a two way commitment between club and community - a two way commitment between the sporting club that you love and the place where you live. Tribal loyalty can thus be transformed into civic pride, a pride that can transcend way beyond the corporate named stadia that is modern day football.

 

For many of the demoralised and destitute post-industrial cities of northern Britain, a community buyout of their football club could be just the spark required to embark on a programme of urban regeneration. Schools and colleges could be linked to the football hub and a spiral of community resistance set in train. It sounds fancifully optimistic but it is better than lying down and passively letting the global corporate monolith stream-roll over us. Start with repossessing our sporting clubs and then graduate up to a factory, a shopping mall or even, dare we suggest it, a bank or building society.

 

Chelsea aren't about to embark along this road. Neither are any of the other big footballing superpowers. But they just could if the ninety-nine percent took back control of what the one percent has expropriated from them.

 

For a useful discussion of how football is now mirroring the death-throes of monopoly capitalism see Jonathan Freedland's Guardian article 19/10/11 Our national sport is revealing the endgame of rampant capitalism. Apart from some nonsense about the socialist ethos of US sport, he offers some telling passages about the parallels between English football and the state of global capitalism. Freedland concludes his article well;

 

First, footballs most storied clubs have become attractive to foreign tycoons who sniff a licence to print money, unrestricted. Second, we've established a model that is inherently unsustainable, involving colossal debts that cripple all those without a billionaire to bail them out. Third, we risk killing the golden goose, turning an activity that should be thrilling into a non-contest whose outcome is all but preordained. Hmm, a system that sees our biggest names falling to leveraged takeovers  think Kraft's buy-up of Cadbury- thereby selling off the crown jewels of our collective culture in the name of rampant capitalism that is both unsustainable and ultimately joyless. That doesn't just sound like the state of the national game, that sounds like the state of the nation.

 

And as for AVB and his erstwhile boss Mr Abromovich it is worth pondering a few lines by Matthew Syed in last week's Times 29/2/12. Syed muses;

 

Andre Villas-Boas acknowledged yesterday that he may not last long as Chelsea manager. He talked about a cultural pattern that has often led to premature sackings. Perhaps he is right. But I can't help wondering what it does to the culture of a football club when the players and staff are paid in what will seem to many like tainted money. Not even the most dedicated Chelsea player could be unaware of the wider context in which they are enmeshed. Chelsea are a great club. But they are at the epicentre of an unfolding moral scandal.

 

End JPK Copyright 4/3/12

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 May 2018 13:29 )