If you’ve watched Succession, you’ll remember the scene. It’s a cracker. Bill is retiring and he’s handed over the cruises division to Tom but he needs him to know a little of what he’s inherited. Not a big deal, Bill explains, but be aware of the ‘death pit’ — bits they covered up over the years. Just a few thefts, assaults, rapes, murders. Probably won’t come to anything, Tom, if you keep the nuclear rods cool.
Great episode. And for whatever reason it makes me think of Chelsea and Todd Boehly, because you never quite know what lives under the floorboards when you move into new digs. You hope for the best, but sometimes you find a death pit.
It might not be murder and rape — ‘the bad ones’, as cousin Greg put it — but it could be a puzzling set of financials logged by the previous regime. Like a mysterious payment to Eden Hazard’s agent, for instance. Or one to an associate of Antonio Conte.
In this of all weeks, with Everton whacked to the boundary rope over financial breaches, you can only wonder how they are feeling over at Stamford Bridge with the drip-feed of disclosures around what may have gone on. If they have any comfort, it might be that they aren’t on Manchester City’s cruise ship right now.
Of course, we can’t say at this point if the success of the Roman Abramovich era was built outside the rules — that is all under investigation. But we do know their current owners spotted some ‘potentially incomplete financial reporting’ in their due diligence last year and promptly flagged it to UEFA once Boehly moved in. And now we are learning via the recent leaks that questions are being asked of transactions involving people close to Hazard and Conte.
Chelsea should be punished significantly if they are found guilty of breaching rules under Roman Abramovich
Questions are being asked of transactions involving people close to Eden Hazard and Antonio Conte
Chelsea’s current owners, including Todd Boehly, spotted some ‘potentially incomplete financial reporting’ in their due diligence last year and promptly flagged it to UEFA
Your browser does not support iframes.
They are deals that have the potential to smell like ‘bad ones’. Chelsea were 10th without Conte in the 2015-16 season but they were 43 points better with him in 2016-17 and won the Premier League. They took the FA Cup the next year, so just as well they got him, then.
Multiply that by 10 for Hazard. Manchester City wanted him in 2012 and Manchester United were sniffing. Tough competition there, but Chelsea proved more persuasive. And what a boon that was — he won the league twice, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League a couple of times. For four of his seven seasons he was named their best player.
It can be tricky to precisely measure the qualities of a top manager; with top players it lives squarely in our line of sight, so we know what Hazard did. Stripping away the fluorescence of his wider contributions, he scored the winner in the 2018 FA Cup final, two in the Europa League final in 2019 and he got the equaliser that ended Tottenham’s title challenge in the 2016 Battle of the Bridge.
In the 2016-17 title-winning campaign, he had 16 in the league, four of them turning draws to wins; two seasons later he scored in the 1-1 with Liverpool, who went on to lose to City by one point.
In short, winning the battle to sign him stands as a sliding-door moment for Chelsea and for those they beat. Which is why we must now know if there is a death pit hidden in the story of his arrival. If there is, then every club he shredded would have a right to feel cheated by Chelsea. Because that is what it would be — cheating. Again, it is unproven and there has been no charge. But it’s awfully uncomfortable. Would it be covered by fining a club that has tremendous resources? Or will it amount to a points deduction, now that a violent precedent has been set for financial irregularities with the Everton case?
That is where the Premier League has set the bar in their efforts to ensure these bean-counting scenarios are central to football’s governance. We can argue against the spirit and purpose of the rules, but we cannot dispute their existence. Through that lens, cooking the books should not be viewed so differently to a cyclist juicing their blood.
The Premier League certainly appear to think so, explaining why Everton face a short-term battle against relegation and a longer one against the clubs who stayed within the agreed margins and went down. With all that comes the question of how much of a sanction in such cases is enough, or more pertinently, how much would be too little? Let’s stay with Everton a moment as we discuss that. They survived by two points last season and saved themselves at the expense of Leicester City on the final day with a 1-0 win over Bournemouth. Abdoulaye Doucoure scored the goal and it was a beauty.
He also got the first two in a 5-1 win at Brighton, so the £20million they spent on him in September 2020 was repaid by a factor of five in May alone if we say the initial blast of relegation is about £100m. Good on him. But Doucoure was signed in the three-year period when Everton were found to have spent beyond their means.
Abdoulaye Doucoure was signed in the three year period where Everton were found to have spent beyond their means
Doucoure’s goal against Bournemouth led to Leicester being relegated from the top flight
Will the Premier League be prepared to give Manchester City a strong punishment if required?
Following Everton’s points deduction a dangerous precedent has been set for such cases
That throws up a related issue — how is it in any way possible to compensate Leicester in a case like this? They went down by two points.
It’s working out for them in the Championship, but it is near impossible to calculate the true weight of relegation when you consider its other tentacles — the associated loss of players and diminished marketing power, for example. Suddenly Everton’s 10-point deduction might even look light. The tip of an iceberg.
Naturally, we can feel sympathy for them, especially if their error distils to an overspend of just £20million (or one Doucoure) but, with guilt established, Leicester in particular among the trio of relegated clubs are entitled to explore legal claims against Everton for compensation that will be eye-watering. A precedent for that branch of chaos theory was set when Sheffield United successfully sued West Ham in the Carlos Tevez affair in 2009.
This is the can that the Premier League has opened and worms have gone everywhere, including their own lap. They now need to show the same sense of conviction in all such matters where financial breaches are found, but will they have the balls to do it? And if they do, it falls hard on them to ensure punishments fit the crimes.
That might make us think of Chelsea in the fullness of time. Of the finals that Hazard turned. But inevitably it makes us think more of Manchester City, where the stakes are even greater and the silence is so loud. What happened on that boat? And will the Premier League keep on their big boy pants when they face a more expensive array of lawyers in discussing 115 alleged breaches that may have shaped more than a decade of the game, at home and now in Europe?
It is by far the most urgent and overdue test of the integrity of British football. It could be a death pit on either side of the legal aisle. And it really isn’t one where they can follow cousin Greg to the shredder.
F1 NEEDS TO BE MORE COMPETITIVE
Las Vegas makes for an arresting backdrop to a Formula One race on Sunday. But until the sport finds a way to make the races competitive, it will only serve as tinsel and lights on a pretty disappointing tree.
Las Vegas is an excellent venue but Formula One remains a rather uncompetitive sport
MCILROY FOCUSED ON GOLF AGAIN
Rory McIlroy has left the front line of golfing politics to become a full-time golfer again. That might be good news for LIV, but it is better news for those of us who believe a 10-year wait for a fifth major is far too long for a sportsman of his calibre.
Rory McIlroy now seems intent on focusing on golf again instead of golfing politics
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.
It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.
Your browser does not support iframes.