There is a certain irony in seeing Chelsea get outbid for players like Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani. Ten years ago -- five years ago, even -- no force on earth would have stopped the club from landing whatever target they pleased. There was a budget, but it was set so high that it might as well not have existed.
But we live in different times now. The difference is UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, which require that clubs operate on something approximating a balanced budget. Chelsea are getting there, slowly, but the only reason they're even trying in the first place is because someone else is making them.
The club feel constrained by FFP regulations. That's beyond doubt. They're cutting costs, buying economically favourable players rather than expensive megastars and they're actually pretty close to being automatically compliant for the better part of the decade without worrying about things. That's obviously great -- having a self-sustaining but still top-level club is much better than one which could stumble if not continually injected with cash.
But there's an inherent problem with adopting these measures so wholeheartedly, especially this early. If a team completely ignores Financial Fair Play and gets away with it a compliant team is at a competitive disadvantage for the whole time they've been unnecessarily controlling their spending. it's a dilemma, because at this point nobody's really sure whether UEFA have any teeth, and clubs with essentially nothing to lose are challenging the regulations.
Chelsea are quite rightly going along with the majority of Europe by trying to play fair (Financial Fair Play is in their best interests for some rather nefarious reasons that I won't get into right now, so playing fair is perhaps not the most appropriate turn of phrase), but there are a few rogues out there that could make the club look incredibly stupid. Take, for instance, Paris Saint-Germain, who've bought a slew of world-class players in without any real income to speak of and would now look poised to challenge for the Champions League if they didn't have Laurent Blanc as a manager.
The Blues are naturally upset at the prospect that this could be all for nothing. Ron Gourlay in particular has been speaking out:
It’s UEFA’s competition so we want to make sure that we comply. All we’ve asked for is that UEFA police and manage the process with a clear, even playing field.
The time is going to come, very soon, when a Monaco or a PSG challenge UEFA over Financial Fair Play. If the rich clubs win, they'll have stolen a march over the rest of Europe. If they don't, they're more or less screwed. The stakes are less high for Chelsea, but they've picked a path in which the best outcome is a UEFA win (which is by no means a given). As Blues supporters, we should be watching what happens in Paris over the next few years with great interest.