After the points deduction threat, Chelsea’s next steps with Arsenal and Tottenham remain uncertain
Just four years from their last major FIFA imposed punishment Chelsea are once more at risk of being on the receiving end of some serious sanctions. The Blues were banned from making any transfers in 2019 following a breach of rules that involved them signing youngsters in the years previous.
That was under the ownership of Roman Abramovich and now it is the Russian’s tenure that is under question once more. Despite rivals fans pointing out the unprecedented level of spending under Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital in the past 16 months it is details of financial records from 2012 to 2019 that is attracting attention.
According to the Guardian, there were payments made over a decade worth 10s of milllions of pounds under Abramovich, ‘routed through offshore vehicles’ which belong to the Russian. The often silent oligarch sold the club after nearly 20 years following sanctions imposed on him by the UK government in March 2022.
Abramovich wrote off £1.5billion of debt owed to him by the club in the act of the sale but there have been complications over the funds he was set to receive from Boehly-Clearlake with the plan to donate the money towards aiding Ukrainians impacted by the war. It is believed that the money remains in an account inaccessible to Abramovich though.
However, it is events that took place under his ownership that is currently the centre of FIFA, UEFA and Premier League investigation. The current owners reported irregularities in financial records with incomplete reporting being flagged in July 2023.
“Chelsea has fully cooperated and assisted UEFA with its investigation of these matters and, following an analysis by the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, the club has entered into a settlement agreement with UEFA,” a statement announced at the time. “Under that settlement the club is to pay a financial contribution of €10 million (£8.6m) to UEFA as a fixed payment.”
That issue is still being examined by the FA and Premier League, though under their own rules evidence from before 2020 cannot be looked at. The issue now being alleged is that hidden payments linked to Abramovich’s Chelsea tenure have been raised with the club benefitting as well as officials close to Antonio Conte and Eden Hazard.
It is said that sports lawyers believe some of these payments could break financial fair play regulations across the game. This now creates uncertainty over the club with Manchester City and Everton also fighting their own corner currently after charges were put against them.
The Toffees could face a 12-point deduction if found guilty of breaching financial rules, it was revealed last month, whilst City have an unprecedented 115 charges allegedly broken over a 10-year period between 2008 and 2018. It leaves questions over what punishment could come Chelsea’s way.
The Premier League is able to not only fine teams but also expel them from the league and deduct points. According to sports barrister Samuel Cuthbert, there is a chance that Chelsea breaking these rules could lead to such sanctions. “If a club were to hide outgoings […] by paying those sums through other entities, it is conceivable that they could be in breach of the FFP rules,” he is quoted as saying by the Guardian.
“You would effectively be circumventing your regulatory requirements, which limit your ability to spend, and spending instead through an offshore company. Any opportunity to gain an unfair advantage skews the competition in favour of a particular club, and undermines the integrity of football, on a fundamental principled level.”
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire explains: “If there is proof that the club has used third party transactions to circumvent the profitability and sustainability rules then sanctions would be either financial or a points deduction.” He also adds: “The latter is more likely as any commission investigating a club’s circumstances will want to put out a deterrent that dissuades others from repeating such behaviour.”
So what next for Chelsea? The simple answer is to wait. These are long processes that take time and given the complex nature of them as well as their multi-faceted parts to it is still months if not years from a resolution. Chelsea’s owners did what they could to get into UEFA’s good books, reporting their findings early, but that does not eliminate future punishment.
As is the case with Everton, it is not the league itself that makes the final call but an independent commission. The same goes for City and when it comes to financial breaches it will be the case for Chelsea too. The Abramovich issue is seperate to this but is still related to financial misconduct.
Chelsea will also be doing their best to help this process and to remain transparent. This is where things differ slightly from City and Everton, who are being pulled up for actions taking place during the tenure of their current owners. There is a desire and determination to fight their corner and be proven innocent of charges whereas Chelsea may well prefer a swift resolution given that these are not decisions made by the current directors and bodies at the top of the club.
If things were to be the worst-case scenario and points deductions were handed out then the next thing to decide would be when they are administered. It is likely too soon to expect anything this season, then the call must be made on whether to retrospectively apply them, potentially changing league positions and stripping titles or other trophies.
The deductions could also realistically be added to the current season at the time of a decision or put in for the future. At this stage, though, it remains a waiting game.