Monday, January 16, 2006

Chelsea: The Proctor & Gamble of Football?

If you've ever had the displeasure of working for or with Proctor & Gamble, you'll be well aware of their proclivity of planning for every contingency, outspending their competition and following a single business and marketing model for their products without a single deviation until it can be proven that that model is obsolete. It's cold, ruthless and very effective.

You could say the same thing about the model employed by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea FC, financed by the seemingly endless wealth of their Russian benefactor, Roman Abrahamovic. They never lose and when they do, it's widely seen as an anomaly. It's also celebrated as a victory for the soul of football over the finances. And therein lies the problem with Chelsea and why their adoption of a P&G-like model is a bad thing for football.

It's not a question of them having more money than their rivals: Man United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Juventus and FC Milan have been outspending their competitors for years. The difference is that those teams have never, openly at least, eschewed attractive football in favor of a negative, results-first approach that Mourinho seems to insist on. He maintains that he's not in the business of entertaining, but in the business of getting results. He's right. In the short term.

This approach is suited to P&G because their objective is simple: make money. Football is, lest anyone forget, is charged with "entertaining the proles". If it stops doing that, the long term damage to the game might be be irreparable. If the leading light of English football wins but doesn't entertain, less and less people will watch, especially the younger generation. They'll be the kings of an ever-shrinking kingdom. And while the record books will speak of Chelsea's dominance, the magic of football is maintained only through the applause and songs of the fans.

Manchester United fans can point to 1999 as the year where their team proved that you can win and be magical, all at once. And forever, that remains the gold standard. If Chelsea hope to ever become the greatest team ever, they'll need to do more than win games. They'll need to win fans.


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