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How much longer can Roman Abramovich tolerate Chelsea’s transfer market failures?

One word: aluminium.

Chelsea v Manchester City - FA Youth Cup Final: Second Leg Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

There has been a certain déjà vu to the way this summer has gone in terms of transfer activities for Chelsea.

Whilst there is no question even this early in the campaign that Michy Batshuayi is a vast upgrade on Falcao or Pato, and that N’Golo Kante is a quality addition, the flaws in the squad are very clear to see.

Last season we needed one, perhaps two centre halves and perhaps a pair of fullbacks, too. We spent all summer chasing quality and ended up not being able to get the deal done. We were more interested in player asset plays.

If you tot up the real and potential money we made on the Miazga, Hector and Djilobodji buy-for-profit deals, would it get anywhere near the amount the club lost by finishing tenth in the Premiership and, crucially, missing out on European football? Even the most ardent of club men would be forced to admit that the profits realised were/are unlikely to get near that huge loss.

So why is the club messing about with asset plays when the first team squad was so brutally exposed last season?

We can give the club the benefit of the doubt here and perhaps state that they could have been surprised by the scale of the fall in ability/pace/productivity of so many of the squad last season. We can perhaps forgive them some over-optimistic faith in the likes of JT, Ivanovic and others after the sterling season they enjoyed the season before last. But that was then. Fast forward to now and we see a tired and under-rotated back four crucially short of pace, ruthlessly exposed time and again last time out and with nobody coming off the bench to add a useful tonic. If it (charitably) may not have been completely clear we needed reinforcements at the back before, it certainly is now.

What we are seeing is an inexperienced transfer team led by Marina Granovskaia who learned a very valuable lesson last summer on why you cannot treat other football clubs in the same way you do deals in boardrooms for industry and commodities, doing mergers and acquisitions. Business is business, but not if you’re Everton. Or Napoli. Or Roma.

You have to wonder what Mr A thinks of it all.

Imagine you are a savvy and very successful Russian billionaire oligarch. You have a very large aluminium empire, centred around a few key massive production installations in central Russia. Your aluminium empire has been very successful in the last 10-12 years and is known for producing high quality product. You have invested massively in the company to get it there and your growth rates have been the envy of the whole industry.

Now imagine the aluminium markets move on quickly and in order to be successful you have to be able to produce several different grades of aluminium to an ever-improving standard of molecular quality. The machinery you’ve invested in won’t cut it anymore and you need to renew what you have as well as buy new machines and facilities to be able to handle the new production techniques.

So you instruct your trusted team who you’ve worked with in the oil and gas markets but who have not got much experience in your aluminium business, to go out and do what needs to be done.

They spend a long time trying to sort things out and after several months come back to you and explain that the machinery and processes are much more expensive than they realised, and that “the market is crazy”. They do not manage to get much done and bizarrely, seem more interested in buying up bits of equipment you don’t and will never need, keeping it in the warehouse or leasing it to your competitors, and then selling for a small profit. You identify one major extension to your production plant and tell them specifically to go and get it done. Your trusted aide goes to the European supplier and lowballs them in a disrespectful manner, causing offense. Instead of apologising, your aide then sends out a press release stating that your group is about to complete the deal, which causes further offence. The supplier ends the discussions early and tells your aide that due to cultural differences and a fundamental gap in expectations, a deal will not be possible now or in the future. Your aide comes back somewhat sheepish and tries to explain what went wrong.

You are surprised to note that your team have not identified any other major suppliers of this equipment you need. Worse, the weather has closed in and as winter grips the Russian steppes it will not be possible to add the new processing unit until the spring when the weather improves and you can actually get contractors in to install it. In the interim your stock price drops precipitously as you lose a series of tenders on quality terms, as you simply cannot compete with the quality and tonnages supplied by your competitors.

So you wait it out and try to protect your share price as best you can. It is a dark time.

Spring eventually comes around and you know very well what machines and new production facilities and enhancements/modernisations you need. Your aide goes out into the market and you trust her and her team as they never let you down when you were in the gas and oil trades, so you hope they won’t let you down again.

Imagine if they came back to you as autumn began to close in. They have hired a new global production manager who will get better results than the last one (although he isn’t a magician and cannot produce better quality aluminium out of thin air). Some smaller bits have been acquired for huge expense so it isn’t all bad...

…but the big stuff you really need you still don’t have!

You are staring down the barrel of another winter without it. You demand an explanation. All you get are mealy-mouthed complaints about how difficult it is to secure production slots and how ridiculously expensive these items of machinery are.

Do you think Mr Abramovich got to where is in the world by tolerating this kind of failure?

Of course not. His aides and probably the whole acquisitions and development team would be fired and new blood would be brought in who could get the deal done. Business is business; nobody knows that better than your now-disgraced aides who have let you down. They can expect no mercy from you – they either do the job they were brought in to do, or they get fired. They weren’t up to it and made a series of mistakes that have cost your business vast sums of money. They are gone. They are history. There is no place for sentimentality.

So why is Chelsea Football Club different?

If Granovsakia and Tenenbaum, Buck etc are used to industrial big business and seem intent on conducting our transfer business in this manner, then why are they then not judged on results in the same metric?

A harsh and unforgiving winter is coming. The pressure is on in the boardroom.

Will they get the deal done?

Let’s all hope so.

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