Today the sledgehammer finally slammed into Chelsea. The party is well and truly over. The club is in a dark, bad place right now, sanctioned along with its owner Roman Abramovich who cannot even sell it now as he had initially planned.
The restrictions which have been imposed on the club are enormous.
They are not allowed to sell or buy players, not really an issue right now but which will become important as this crisis continues to hold the attention of the world. But nor are they allowed to sell a single ticket or a single piece of merchandise because there is a risk that some of it will flow towards his pockets or those of the coterie which surrounds him.
Chelsea has received a special “license” to continue operating as a football club … but they can no longer operate as a business.
This morning the taps were turned off. The glory days of spending big are over with, and although this is likely to be a temporary measure nobody can say for sure how long “temporary” is going to last.
This is an existential moment for the club. It is not inconceivable that Chelsea, as football knows it, will simply cease to exist. And with it a lot of other things look almost certain to change too.
A new reckoning is coming for the sport and those in it.
For years now, football has lived in a half-light between politics and entertainment. FIFA and UEFA kid themselves on that sports and politics don’t mix, but the number of oligarchies now running clubs is in the dozens. There was always a disquiet in the halls of Nyon and Zurich about what this would eventually mean … well the rent’s come due in a big way.
Imagine being a Newcastle fan right now, one of the many who sneered at the “moralising” when their club was sold to the Saudi oligarchs. There was always a risk that they would end up laughing on the other side of their faces and it is not difficult to envision scenarios which could have as dramatic an impact on them as is being had on Chelsea right now.
Imagine there are anti-government protests in Riyad and their government responds in the time-honoured fashion and sends the security forces to deal with the protesters and it leads to a substantial global backlash.
Not beyond the realms of possibility.
Or imagine that the plight of Ukraine gets people to focus – at last – on the Saudi’s seven year conflict with Yemen, replete with its own human rights abuses and war crimes?
What happens when government, or football, says “enough is enough”?
Well that moment is coming sooner than a lot of people thought.
This has implications right across the sport, including some for the club across the city.
How much longer is the SFA and the SPFL going to be allowed to pretend that their funding sources are their own business? Who knows whose cash is flooding into Ibrox?
Who knows whose claws are deep in over there? Nobody inside that ground is saying.
But is it really beyond the realms of possibility that there are people involved in the financing there who wouldn’t pass muster or a fit and proper person test? King never should have, but there are far worse types out there than him.
Football regulations are wide open for abuse, and the sport is long overdue a point where it got its act together.
That time has to be coming soon.
Financial fair play has been exposed as a farce and a bad joke.
Either the SFA is not reporting things accurately to UEFA or UEFA simply doesn’t care anymore.
The club across the city are competing in a Europa League last 16 tie tonight when they have made sizeable losses consistently in every year of their existence so far … they are cheating every club they come up against.
The idea that they are in compliance with FFP, or have been at any time, is frankly ludicrous.
But the funding of clubs, and club licensing, is now a hot issue again with the Russian teams all banned from European competition and the hammer of sanctions starting to fall on Moscow’s high-worth individuals.
National associations are going to have to get their act together … including this one. If football won’t get its house in order and start digging in deep to where the money at some clubs comes from, then licensing needs to be taken out of football’s hands.
This is the start. It will not be the end.