Fortifying an Empire The Chelsea – Vitesse Partnership
This analysis hopes to provide a comprehensive look at the partnership between Chelsea and Vitesse. In order to better understand the relationship between the clubs and how it benefits Chelsea, we will be examining the history of the partnership, the cast of characters involved, the extent of the influence Chelsea wields with regards to the decisions being made at Vitesse, the competitive nature of the Eredivisie, the financial aspects of the partnership, and whether or not Chelsea has received enough interest on its generous loans to Vitesse.
A Brief History of Vitesse
Despite the hyperbolic nature of the Vickers poem, the place Vitesse calls home is far from a grim unknown. Arnhem a self-described "bustling town" which, aside from proudly boasting the largest carillon in Europe, possessing some important World War II history, and having a pretty neat looking zoo, is a fairly non-descript town in the Gelderland region of the Netherlands. It's also twinned with Croydon.
Vitesse is one of the oldest football clubs in the Netherlands, but the silverware cabinet has been collecting cobwebs for well over one hundred years. Aside from a dusty trophy won in 1966 for winning the lowest professional football league in the Netherlands and two Eerste Divisie (Dutch second division) titles in the 1970s and 1980s, Vitesse has little to show for all of its efforts. The club’s best result in top division football is second place, a feat it last achieved in 1915.
fter toiling in mediocrity and shuffling between the first and second divisions for almost a century, the club’s fortunes took a turn. After falling into bankruptcy in the early 1980s, having spent much of the last decade toiling in the second division, and receiving the ignominious nickname of "FC Hollywood on the Rhine" due to the club’s notorious infighting, both on and off the pitch, Dutch businessman Karel Aalbers bought the team in 19841Credit due to Gary Armstrong at A Football Report for the origins of the nickname. After injecting quite a bit of money into the club, luring top managers and players to Arnhem, and building a "revolutionary new stadium with a retractable roof [as well as retractable pitch]" Aalbers had seemingly begun to set the club in the right direction. While Aalbers’ efforts did not lead to an Eredivisie title, he brought some much-needed stability to the club, and Vitesse never finished lower than sixth in the Eredivisie from the 1989-1990 season through the 2000-2001 season.
However, after defaulting on the building loans for the Gelredome and following allegations of fraud, Aalbers was forced to give up the club in 2000. After the books were opened, it was discovered that Vitesse was heavily in debt, and if not for the Arnhem city council, the Gelderland provincial council, and wealthy supporters stepping in, the club would have fallen into bankruptcy (Ernest Bouwes has the grim details of Vitesse’s "Icarian fall" here). From the 2002-2003 through the 2009-2010 season, the club’s best finish was 7th place in the Eredivisie and their worst season was 16th (Vitesse managed to stave off relegation in the Nacompetitie, or "relegation playoffs")2There are eighteen spots in the Eredivisie, and at the end of the season, the last-place team is relegated to the Eerste Divisie, and the Eerste Divisie champion is automatically promoted. The 16th and 17th place Eredivisie teams then play a two-round tournament with six Eerste Divisie clubs (two of which had to play an earlier, qualifying, round) to determine which two clubs will be promoted (or stay up) in the Eredivisie..
Much to the surprise of the Dutch media and most Eredivisie supporters, "Merab Jordania" "purchased" the club at the start of the 2010-2011 season, and Vitesse has been on the rise ever since3 The liberal use of quotation marks will be explained in the following section..
The Triumvirate Merab Jordania is an enigma.
A career footballer, he played professionally for over ten years, mostly for Georgian club Dinamo Tbilisi. After retiring from the pitch in 1992 at age 32, he began his second career as a football executive. He became chairman of his former club, and was named president of the Georgian Football Federation (GFF) in 1998, when he was just 38 years old.
He was president of the GFF until 2005, and actually served double duty as the manager of the national team for three matches in the fall of 2003. He coached the team during the 2004 Euro qualifiers, where Georgia took three points from the three games, beating Albania in addition to losing to Albania in the rematch and losing to Russia).
At this point, Jordania’s career path seems fairly normal. It is not uncommon for a successful footballer to return to his former club in a managerial capacity. Further, it is entirely reasonable that said former footballer could show a prodigious talent for management and rise through the ranks, especially in a country that is not exactly renowned for its footballing prowess. I don’t think any of us would have a problem accepting that there’s a poor homeless man’s version of Zinedine Zidane running around in Georgia.
Jordania’s story becomes the stuff of legends, however, when you realise that in between scoring grainy free kicks, running a football club, heading up the Georgian Football Federation, and trying to qualify for the Euros, he apparently still found the time to earn billions.
Jordania had already caught the attention of the Dutch media simply by virtue of becoming the first foreign businessman to buy an Eredivisie club, but he opened himself up to further scrutiny when he pledged that the club would be in Eredivisie champions and competing in the Champions League within three years. Naturally, they did some digging.
According to the Dutch media, Jordania started a company in 2009 called Mj-Georgia, which "does business in player transfers and trades in TV rights of clubs and national teams in the former Soviet Union." The lads over at Blue Tinted found that Mj-Georgia is considered a "small enterprise" by the Georgian Chamber of Commerce, and one only needs a cursory knowledge of the economics of broadcasting rights and player agent fees to know that there is no way that Eastern European player agents / broadcasting rights middlemen are earning billions of rubles, let alone billions of euros or sterling pounds.
Jordania’s story is further clouded by the fact that he was relieved of his duties at the GFF after he was arrested for embezzling £700,000 from Dinamo Tbilisi. Jordania had also been arrested in 2003 for tax evasion, but it appears as though the charges were not serious enough to merit any action on the part of the GFF. In fact, Jordania was given the added responsibility of managing the national team after his arrest.
Unsurprisingly, the Dutch media also found this all a bit puzzling. Never mind the fact that Vitesse has never earned the privilege of competing in the Champions League, had never won the Eredivisie title, and had recently been staving off relegation. The burning question was why would a purported billionaire get out of bed for, let alone risk his career (not to mention his freedom) for a £700,000 pittance? Naturally, they did some digging, and while nothing has been proven conclusively until very recently, the general consensus amongst the Dutch is that Jordania was merely a frontman for Russian billionaire Alexander Chigirinsky, who just happens to be a close friend and business partner of Roman Abramovich. Chigirinsky and Abramovich both own large shares (sixty and sixteen percent, respectively) of a Russian property development company called Snegiri.
Upon reaching its conclusion, the Dutch media apparently failed to take into account the fact that Chigirinsky’s brother had waged an ultimately unsuccessful six-year legal battle against Abramovich seeking billions of pounds, stemming from allegations of share liquidation dating back to before Abramovich purchased our beloved football club . Or, perhaps, they are simply more attuned to the subtle nuances of the dynamics involved Russian oligarch rivalries that allow one to pal around with one brother while being sued by the other brother.
Regardless, it still doesn’t explain why Jordania is involved, especially given the icy nature of Georgian-Russian relations (clearly, it’s entirely reasonable for individuals to engage in successful relationships, both business and personal, despite the fact that their respective governments are at odds, but it’s worth noting, as all parties have close ties to the major figures in their respective governments).
It has been widely reported that Jordania and Abramovich have been friends since before Abramovich’s involvement in Chelsea, and apparently Alexander Chigirinsky made the introduction (many thanks to Rod Crowley and Blue Tinted for this background information). Again, perhaps I am just naïve in the ways of Russian billionaires, but it still rather curious as to how Jordania managed to not only befriend these magnates, but also go into business with them (It is especially telling that when you Google "Merab Jordania", the most prominently displayed image in Jordania’s brief biography is that of Roman Abramovic, as opposed, to you know, Jordania himself).
In late October 2013, Vitesse quietly announced that Jordania would be transferring his shares to none other than Alexander Chigirinsky. This announcement essentially confirmed what much of the Dutch media had been assuming for years: that Jordania had merely been a "caretaker owner" for Chigirinsky.
During Chigirinsky’s introductory press conference, Jordania himself said "on arrival in Arnhem, I said that I could always rely on Alexander Chigirinsky. I feel now is the right time for me to hand over Vitesse to Alexander, and I am delighted to do so with the club in such good shape." Chigirinsky responded by saying "I know I can always count on my close friend Merab." I didn’t see the press conference myself, so I can only imagine the copious amount of winking that went on throughout the proceedings.
Maddeningly, I have been unable to reach a reasonable conclusion as to why Chigirinsky and most likely Abramovich felt the need to leave the club with a "caretaker owner" for three years. While Jordania did have a reasonably sound pedigree for the job, his shady background makes him ill-suited to be the face of a football club (or, for that matter, any investment). It is entirely possible that Jordania’s criminal history seems worse than it actually is, and his long-time friends, Messrs’ Abramovich and Chigirinsky, know him well enough to look past his arrests. After all, even first year law students know that an arrest is merely the accusation of one police officer and, in and of itself (legally speaking) holds little weight until the alleged offender is actually prosecuted for the crime that led to the arrest. That said, the social stigma attached to executives that have even been suggested as having engaged in white collar should disqualify Jordania from being chosen to be the point man on an investment of this size (especially given the heightened scrutiny the Dutch media would place on the first foreign owner in the Eredivisie). When any investment is made (and especially those that will be subject to massive external scrutiny), considerable efforts are spent on ensuring that the investment not only is, but also appears to be as sound as possible, and any potential holes that could be poked into this façade are quickly patched up.
Given the vast resources available to Abramovich and Chigirinsky, it makes no logical business sense to insert Jordania as the "caretaker owner." Looking at a Jose Mourinho quote from 2010 might help shine some light on Abramovich’s thought process with the Jordania hire:
"I think that he [Abramovich] sometimes thinks too much with his heart and helps people in football that he likes instead of thinking about getting the best for the job."
It would have made much more sense to give Jordania a less-visible, but still important role in the club’s front office if they wanted to do him a favour and/or make use of his admittedly considerable experience running a football organisation. However, Jordania does have a rather impressive CV, and while I maintain that his sketchy past makes for an incredibly poor choice of "caretaker owner," it certainly doesn’t mean that he would not have been a fine choice as a director of football or other key position within the club.
That said, installing Jordania as "caretaker owner" was a much better plan than Abramovich buying Vitesse outright. Had Abramovich bought a controlling interest in Vitesse, it would have likely prevented Vitesse from ever playing in the Champions League, due to what is known as the "ENIC ruling." In 1999, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) affirmed that UEFA did not violate EU law when it removed AEK Athens from the 1997-98 UEFA Cup because the club was owned by the same company, ENIC, that owned Slavia Praha, which was also in the competition4As a somewhat relevant aside, ENIC currently has an 85% controlling share in Tottenham Hotspur..
The ruling held that:
In the case of two or more clubs which are under common control, only one may participate in the same UEFA club competition. In this connection, an individual or legal entity has control of a club where he/she/it:
holds a majority of the shareholders’ voting rights, or
has the right to appoint or remove a majority of the members of the administrative, management or supervisory body, or
is a shareholder and alone controls a majority of the shareholders’ voting rights pursuant to an agreement entered into with other shareholders of the club in question.
That is, while there is no rule, regulation, or law against owning controlling interests multiple football clubs (at least where the European Union and UEFA is concerned), those clubs cannot compete in the same competition. Such a rule is necessary to preserve the integrity of the game and avoiding conflicts of interest.
As such, while it is clear that Chelsea is directly involved in all things Vitesse, it is a fundamental necessity that Roman Abramovich didn’t purchase the club himself. I can imagine that if (or more likely, when) Vitesse earns a spot in the Champions League, we will hear grumbling from Chelsea’s and Vitesse’s opposition about the definition of "common control" in section (b) of the ENIC ruling, but it is unlikely that the term "management body" applies to hiring decisions in footballing or scouting operations, but rather the board of directors. Chelsea will have nothing to do with the Vitesse board of directors, as it will strictly be the realm of Chigirinsky and the minority shareholders (the Vitesse supporters who rescued the club and stadium from bankruptcy after the Aalbers fiasco).
The question still remains as to why Chigirinsky did not want to sign the title to the club for three years. That said, it’s not as if Jordania ran Vitesse into the ground over the past three years. Quite the opposite, in fact. The club has made extraordinary strides since Jordania first became involved with the club. While it’s difficult to imagine that Jordania himself was making all (or even most) of the decisions, the results speak for themselves. Vitesse likely would have been relegated after the 2010-2011 season had the Jordania/Chigirinsky/Abramovich triumvirate not intervened and put Nemanja Matic, Slobodan Rajkovic, and to a much lesser extent Matej Delac, in the blue and yellow. The club improved to seventh in 2011-2012 and improved even further last season after finishing in fourth place. This season, Vitesse currently sits alone in first place and is a serious contender for both the Eredivisie title and a coveted spot in the Champions League.
Furthermore, we can safely say that Vitesse captain Guram Kashia would not be in Arnhem if not for Jordania bringing the fellow Georgian with him when he took over the club. Signed for a mere £250,000 from Dinamo Tbilisi, Jordania’s first piece of business has certainly paid off, as Kashia has been starting at centre back since day one (Kashia is also the captain of the Georgian national team and is the reigning Georgian footballer of the year).
It should be noted, however, that by comparison, Jordania’s managerial merry-go-round makes Chelsea’s recent managerial history look downright Wegnerian (minus the puffy coat and lack of trophies, of course). Since Jordania "purchased" the team in 2010, Vitesse has run through seven different managers. To be fair, two of these unfortunate gentlemen, Hans von Arum and Raymond van der Gouw, were co-interim managers for a mere 25 days after Jordania’s first piece of business after purchasing the team was to sack Vitesse legend, Theo Bos (this, despite the fact that during his introductory press conference, Jordania promised that Bos would remain with the club).
Why Chelsea needs Vitesse
While it would be rather convenient to practise a bit of provinciality and keep most of our youngsters in England where we could keep a better eye on them, such a venture is quite impossible given the state of British immigration law and FA work permit regulations.
As such, many of our youngsters are barred from playing in England and are therefore forced to play elsewhere. Of the eleven loanees Chelsea has sent to Vitesse, seven were ineligible to play in England due to their inability to secure a work permit.
Due to the emphasis that the European Union places on protecting the free movement of workers, footballers from EU member states will likely never have a problem securing a work permit to play in another EU member state5Very briefly, Article 39 EC establishes the freedom of workers. The right of workers to move freely about Europe is one of the four fundamental freedoms that the EU guarantees. Further, with each new treaty, white paper, and relevant case that appears before the European Court of Justice, this freedom becomes further entrenched within EU policy, and geographical and national barriers to employment that previously existed continue to erode.. As such, any player Chelsea signs from any of the twenty-eight member states is virtually assured of receiving a work permit to play football in England.
Note that players must be citizens of an EU member state. Simply having played football in the EU does not satisfy this requirement. For example, even though Chelsea signed Christian Atsu from FC Porto, Atsu did not receive a work permit to play in England, since he is not a citizen of Portugal, but rather of Ghana.
That said, the FA’s extremely stringent work permit regulations coupled with British immigration law, creates significant difficulties for non-EU footballers trying to ply their trade in England (and it might become even more difficult in the future).
Unless a footballer is from an EU member state (in which case, EU law mandates that the FA grant the footballer a work permit), a youth player from the footballing hotbeds of the likes of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, or hails from small island nations with tenuous connections to the vestiges of the British Empire (Turks and Caicos, the Falkland Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, etc.), said footballer will either need to be very, very good or very, very rich in order to earn the privilege of adding Premier League (or even League 2) football to his CV.
In order to successfully obtain a work permit and complete the FA registration process :
The player must have participated in at least 75 percent of his home country’s senior competitive international matches where he was available for selection during the two years preceding the date of the application; and
The player’s National Association must be at or above 70th place in the official FIFA World Rankings when averaged over the two years preceding the date of the application.
The FA defines "senior competitive international matches" as World Cup matches and qualifiers, continental tournaments and qualifiers (i.e. Euros, AFCON), and Confederations Cup matches.
So, essentially, the player must already be ingrained in the senior national team prior to coming to England. This prevents most non-EU youngsters from securing an English work permit, since even the best young players in the world usually haven’t been regulars in the senior national team since they were sixteen or seventeen6Our Belgian lads are a notable exception, but since Belgium is part of the EU, work permits would never have been an issue in the first place..
In addition to being a regular selection in the national team, that player also must be from a country in the top seventy of the FIFA world rankings. While this requirement makes things difficult for players from non-EU countries that fall outside of the top seventy and have no historical ties to Britain, it has seemingly little effect on Chelsea. In fact, after looking at the list of countries in the top seventy, I couldn’t think of any players in recent memory that Chelsea has either signed or were even linked to where this requirement would even be applicable. That is, I don’t know of any North Koreans or Qataris that Chelsea has scouted, but couldn’t sign because of the "top seventy" requirement.
For players who have not been selected in at least 75 percent of the relevant international fixtures during the previous two years, the Premier League door is not completely shut. A club can file an appeal, in which case the club that wants to bring the player over must successfully convince the FA that:
The player is of the highest calibre
The player is able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in England.
As we have seen in the cases of Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez, in addition to our own Willian, the FA will allow extremely talented players into the Premier League, regardless of whether they satisfy the citizenship or national team requirements.
Every FA work permit is still subject to approval by the Home Office, and where the FA is concerned with footballing ability, the Home Office is concerned with the player’s ability to successfully assimilate to life in England. In addition to English language skills, the Home Office is primarily concerned about their ability to earn a living wage (and therefore, pay taxes). Willian will be paying almost £2m annually to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, so in his case, no one is going to be particularly fussed if he doesn’t speak a word of English over the course of his five year contract.
If the likes of Kagawa, Hernandez, and Willian are the standard for the FA’s interpretation of "players of the highest calibre," (and it seems like they are the standard), most players attempting to come to England via the appeals process have an uphill battle to climb. Kagawa had previously played for one of the top clubs in the world, Borussia Dortmund, had scored 21 goals in 49 Bundesliga matches, was named to the Bundesliga Team of the Season, and played in almost 70 percent of the relevant Japanese national team fixtures (just shy of the 75 percent requirement). The little pea, while possessing a less distinguished CV than his Japanese teammate, was still coming off a season in which he scored 21 goals in 28 games for Chivas Guadalajara (he had also scored four times in his four senior international caps prior to joining United).
Willian, despite lacking the international appearances (he had only been capped twice for Brazil prior to arriving at Stamford Bridge), likely achieved "highest calibre" status by virtue of his fifty-plus appearances in the Champions League for Shakhtar Donetsk. Also, the fact that Chelsea deemed him worthy enough to commit nearly £55m to when it already has plenty of world class attacking midfielders and wingers probably didn’t hurt when the FA was making its determination.
As mentioned, when the likes of Willian, Kagawa, and Chicarito are the standard by which the FA judges players of the highest calibre, the vast majority of players who do not fulfil the initial requirements for a work permit will not be considered "of the highest calibre," and will therefore fail to secure an English work permit.
When an English club buys a player, it will already be confident as to whether said player will receive a work permit. When the player doesn’t receive a work permit, the new parent club will usually already have a loan destination in mind.
Since the loan must be in a country where work permit regulations are more relaxed than England’s (so, basically anywhere else in Europe), the club must work out an arrangement with a club on the continent.
Given that the parent club has a vested interest in the player’s development, it’s only natural that an enterprising and forward-thinking English club with plenty of resources such as our own, will look to exert as much control as possible with regards to said player’s development.
The best way to exert the maximum amount of control over a loanee’s development is to enter into an extensive partnership with a smaller club. By providing the smaller club with young talent that said club would not otherwise be able to procure with the caveat that the talent provided would be nurtured through excellent training and first team football, the larger club puts itself in a great position to develop far more talent than it would be able to on its own.
It is highly unlikely that Jordania Chigirinsky Abramovich’s friends would have bought Vitesse without already having drawn at least the broad strokes of a partnership with Chelsea. This leads me to believe that Abramovich, Michael Emenalo, and Bruce Buck had already determined that the Eredivisie would be the ideal league for Chelsea’s youngsters to develop into players capable of making significant contributions in the Premier League.
The KNVB (Dutch FA) and the UWV WERKbedrijf (the Dutch governmental agency that issues work permits) have far less stringent requirements for non-EU players seeking to play in the Eredivisie. The player only needs to satisfy one of the following three requirements in order to secure a work permit to play in the Eredivisie:
The player’s home country has to be ranked in the top forty of the FIFA World Ranking list at the moment the player applies for the permit, or
the player has played in at least one match for his home country’s national team (or another national team), or
the player has played in a match in a European competition (the Champions League or the Europa League).
Where the non-EU player seeking a work permit in England has to be a mainstay in one of the top seventy national teams (or meet the lofty "highest calibre" standard via the appeals process), that same player seeking a work permit in the Netherlands can simply hold a passport from a nation with one of the top forty national teams, despite the fact that said player has never played for his country’s national team. If said player hails from a country outside of FIFA’s top forty rankings, said player can still secure a work permit if he has earned at least one international cap. Failing that, said player can still secure a work permit if he has ever played a match in the Champions League or the Europa League.
Given that it is rather easy to secure a Dutch work permit to play in the Eredivisie (relatively speaking, of course), one can see, in part, where Chelsea’s motivation to form a partnership with Vitesse stems from.
Our History in the Netherlands
Vitesse is not the first Eredivisie club that Chelsea considered a partnership with. Back in 2004, the initial seeds of a Chelsea – PSV Eindhoven partnership were planted after Chelsea sent Brazilian defender Alex there on loan and managed to sign Arjen Robben when it appeared that he was bound for Manchester United (Chelsea also signed the less heralded Mateja Kežman from PSV in 2004).
Chelsea continued to send youngsters to PSV, most notably Alicides and Slobodan Rajković. In addition, Chelsea availed itself of the considerable talent that the Eindhoven club had in the front office. Most notably, Roman Abramovich pried Piet de Visser away from PSV, no small feat, considering de Visser had been working as a manager or scout in the Eredivisie for the previous fifty years, and from what I can tell, is truly revered in the Netherlands for his ability to find and develop young talent (de Visser was the second recipient of a lifetime achievement award named after Rinus Michels in 2005). De Visser is unquestionably one of the best judges of talent in the world, and both Abramovich and Michael Emenalo act on de Visser’s recommendations more often than not7De Visser spotted Romario and Ronaldo, among several others for PSV, and was instrumental in Chelsea signing Alex, Arjen Robben, John Obi Mikel, Solomon Kalou, Thibaut Courtois, among several others. He also recommended Frank Arensen for Chelsea’s sporting director position back in 2005 (which was acted upon, despite the objections of Jose Mourinho) and recommended that Guus Hiddink replace Luiz Felipe Scolari for the second half of the 2009-2010 campaign.
Chelsea also snagged beloved caretaker manager Guus Hiddink to take over the 2009-2010 campaign after Luiz Felipe Scolari was fired in mid-season. Hiddink has a long history with PSV, and was the manager when Chelsea first began working with them in 2004. Lastly, acting on de Visser’s recommendation, Chelsea hired then-PSV technical director Frank Arnesen to the same position at Chelsea. Michael Emenalo, of course, has since taken over that role, but it is worth noting that Arnesen held the position for five years and was hired over the objections of Jose Mourinho.
Both Ernest Bouwes at ESPN and Rod Crowley at Blue Tinted go into detail about why the relationship between PSV and Chelsea never evolved into a full partnership, and both writers reach the same conclusion that a man named Vlado Lemić was at fault. Lemić cuts an extremely interesting figure and both articles are well worth a read8It should also be noted that both articles form much of the basis of this section, and credit is owed to both Bouwes and Crowley.
Given that Roman Abramovich’s ties to the Netherlands run as deep as the Rhine, the decision to partner with Vitesse becomes a bit clearer.
The Eredivisie as an Incubator
Peter McVitie is perhaps the most plugged-in English-language Eredivisie journalist, and he was kind enough to provide his insights into why Chelsea specifically targeted the Eredivisie and Vitesse for a partnership, beyond the favourable work permit regulations.
McVitie was quick to highlight the Eredivisie’s reputation as a "fantastic training league," and points to its favourable track record of regularly churning out young talent. He also pointed out that "there’s a growing demand, in England, for more technically skilled players and the Netherlands has a tendency to produce players in all positions who are technically gifted. Even centre-backs and goalkeepers tend to have excellent technical abilities in the Netherlands as they prefer to build from the back and keep the ball on the ground, regardless of the pressure they are under. English football is moving towards a new style of playing more possession-based football, the Netherlands has been playing it for decades and they produce the type of player England is beginning to admire."
In fact, Chelsea’s own young centre-back Tomas Kalas specifically highlighted how the Eredivisie helped him improve his technical skills and quality on the ball, which enabled him to further develop as an Ivanovician hybrid who can play both centre back and right back).
This emphasis on youth development and technical skills is why McVitie feels "the Eredivisie is such an attractive league… and in some ways it is only logical that a team like Chelsea should look to develop young players in this league. [Chelsea’s youngsters] will benefit from the training styles in Netherlands while benefitting immensely from the first-team football they receive. "
McVitie further opined that Chelsea chose to work with Vitesse because it gives Chelsea the opportunity to essentially buy (with sketchy Georgians and fellow Russian oligarchs acting as curious middlemen) "a relatively cheap mid-table team to build up and take advantage of, while [at the same time] trying to turn Vitesse into a top team to further benefit Chelsea and their [current and future young players that they will send to Arnhem]… a club like Vitesse ticks all the boxes: a smaller club in a league known for producing good young players and playing attractive football which [Chelsea] can take over and capitalise on. I don’t think you get all of those aspects in any other league."
McVitie also points to the fact that the Eredivisie has never been shy about giving young players plenty of run. He uses PSV as an example of the larger Eredivisie-wide trend to rely heavily on young players. To wit, "Memphis Depay (19), Zakaria Bakkali (17), Adam Maher (20), Jeffrey Bruma (21), Georginio Wijnaldum (22), Jürgen Locadia (19), Jetro Willems (19), Florian Jozefzoon (22), Santiago Arias (21), Joshua Brenet (19), Jorrit Hendrix (18), Luciano Narsingh (23) and Jeroen Zoet (22) all have very bright futures and will all play a big part in PSV over the course of this season and those which follow." Wijnaldum, at 22, captains the young Eindhoven club, and as McVitie pointed out to me, he was the oldest member of the starting eleven that beat fellow Eredivisie club NAC Breda, 5-0.
When juxtaposed against the English Premier League’s approach to incorporating very young players, McVitie opined that "there is a general distrust of young players in the UK." Patrick van Aanholt echoed McVitie’s insights when asked about his previous loans in England:
"It sounds a bit ungrateful but you are never a priority there. I played for Wigan before and I played four games in a row and I played good too, but I had to leave for a week to play with the Under-21 Oranje team and when I returned I had lost my spot. The coach picked a lad who would be there [beyond that season] and that is his prerogative, but I had spend four months on the bench there. Vitesse made a commitment to actually use me, and I need to play. It’s as simple as that."
The fact that the Eredivisie is a league where young players are given the opportunity to thrive is crucial to the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership, as Chelsea clearly sought out a partner who could assure that at least most of the loanees Chelsea sends away would receive the competitive minutes necessary to maximise their development. Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo has specifically highlighted this when discussing why the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership is so successful: "It’s working with Vitesse because the Dutch league plays in a desirable way and have done what they promised. When they say they want a player, the player actually does play." With regards to developing young talent, even the best coaching at the training ground is no substitute for playing competitive matches.
Fortunately, Chelsea appears to have the best of both worlds in Arnhem. Not only have most of the players been able to become mainstays in the Vitesse lineup, but Chelsea also has a degree of input in the managerial staff (the extent of that input will be discussed in the following section).
Given the fact that there was a significant amount of hullaballoo in the Dutch media over Jordania becoming the first "foreign" owner in the Eredivisie, and with the excellent tradition of developing one’s own players a point of pride amongst Eredivisie supporters, it was to be expected that Chelsea’s relationship with Vitesse has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers in the Netherlands. The loudest grumbling has come from Carlos Aalbers9It does not appear that Carlos Aalbers is related to the former Vitesse owner, the technical director of one of Vitesse’s rivals, NEC Nigmegen. While admitting that Vitesse and Chelsea are both completely within the rules of FIFA, the KNVB, and the Eredivisie, he is trying to get a loan cap implemented. Such a loan cap would restrict Eredivisie sides from hosting more than three loanees at a time.
Explaining his position, Aalbers said "The challenge for clubs like ours in the present climate is to cut costs while remaining competitive, which is why we have to sell players. Obviously, Vitesse currently have an advantage in that they can keep costs down, while keeping the squad competitive by bringing in a lot of loan players from Chelsea. I asked Peter McVitie if he thought that a rule change was imminent, or if this is just a case of sour grapes on the part of Vitesse’s rival clubs. McVitie assured me that "the issue isn’t widespread enough at the moment to warrant any such action to be taken." That said, the news that Manchester City and PSV have taken the first steps towards a similar partnership, beginning with Manchester City’s loaning PSV its highly-rated Dutch U19 defender Karim Rekik for the season, likely does little to alleviate concerns.
Despite the fact that nothing about the Chelsea-Vitesse partnership runs afoul of any rule, regulation, or law, Vitesse isn’t winning any new supporters in the Netherlands by continuing to embrace its role as Cobham East. As mentioned, it’s a great point of pride for club supporters when their club develops its own talent. The fact that Vitesse is getting so much help from Chelsea not only doesn’t sit well with most Eredivisie supporters, but it has also led to Vitesse becoming something of the black sheep of the league. As the partnership with Chelsea solidifies, so too does Vitesse’s rivalries with other Eredivisie clubs (whose supporters, no doubt, relish the thought of beating "Chelsea").
Even some Vitesse supporters dislike the idea of the Chelsea partnership, but McVitie says that Vitesse’s change of fortunes successfully counterbalance the philosophical differences with regards to youth development for most supporters. McVitie specifically highlights how much Vitesse supporters have enjoyed watching Tomas Kalas, Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta, and most recently, burgeoning Vitesse legend Lucas Piazon.
The Extent of (and limits to) the Partnership
In addition to the mutually beneficial player loan relationship that the clubs have forged, there are additional provisions that further solidify the bond between Chelsea and Vitesse. First, Chelsea have the right of first refusal with regards to players Vitesse plans on selling. This essentially gives Chelsea the first crack at any players Vitesse decides to sel
We have begun to see this provision pay off, as Chelsea’s £8.3m purchase of the 2012-2013 Dutch Football Talent of the Year (the award given to the best young player in the Netherlands), Marco van Ginkel, already looks to be a solid piece of business despite van Ginkel’s injury.
Rob Jansen, a member of the agency firm that represents van Ginkel, shines light into the seemingly ironclad nature of Chelsea’s right of first refusal:
"In Dutch terms, the package that Ajax put forward [for van Ginkel] was a great deal of money. The player wanted to go to Ajax and not to another club. The amount of money that Vitesse would have got was not far from the Chelsea sum, so it wasn't a big difference. But because Chelsea have a huge grip on Vitesse, pressure was put onto the player. They wanted him."
Based on Jansen’s quote, it appears as though both van Ginkel and his representatives thought that Ajax would have been the better move for the player’s development, but Vitesse refused to negotiate with Ajax given that Chelsea had declared its interest in him.
However, given that Chelsea was in the market for a striker this summer and given that Vitesse had a perfectly good striker to sell, one wonders why Wilfried Bony is not wearing blue. Bony was sold to another Premier League club, Swansea, but (the curious case of Alexander Büttner notwithstanding) I would be shocked if Vitesse ever does business with one of Chelsea’s direct competition whilst this partnership is in existence (i.e. either of the Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Spurs, or Liverpool).
This is not to say that Vitesse is barred from doing business with other Premier League clubs. Far from it, in fact. In addition to the sale of Wilfried Bony to Swansea, Vitesse has also taken an Everton prospect on loan this year. Francisco Junior, a Portuguese U21 central midfielder, has come on as a substitute twice so far this season, and made an immediate impact in one of those appearances. After being on the pitch for six minutes against PEC Zwolle on 2 October, he either left a nice ball inside the box for our own Lucas Piazon to smash home, or he either sprinted towards the net and fell over the ball, leaving Piazon to happily clean up his mess. I didn’t see the match live, and the angle of the highlight I saw supports both conclusions. Either way, he was credited with the assist.
Similarly, Chelsea is not prohibited from continuing to conduct business with other Eredivisie clubs. Prior to his accruing enough caps with the Super Eagles to fulfil the English work permit requirements, Chelsea graced ADO Den Haag with the privilege of Kenneth Omeruo’s services for eighteen months. Similarly, Chelsea has loaned Stipe Perica to NAC Breda10Before getting his first start in the 10 November win against PSV, Perica had scored three times, notched an assist, and has picked up a yellow card, despite having only played 142 total minutes spread over seven substitute appearances. It’s safe to say that he’s making the most of his limited opportunities.. Chelsea has also done business with PSV, having sold them Jeffrey Bruma for £2.5m11Don’t worry, Chelsea mandated that a buyback clause be included in the transfer agreement..
Chelsea has been exerting significant influence on personnel and managerial decisions since the Jordania/Chigirinksy/Abramovich triumvirate first became involved with Vitesse. To wit, one of Jordania's first moves was rather callously sacking Vitesse legend Theo Bos and handing the managerial reins to former Chelsea right back, Albert Ferrer.
Prior to Peter Bosz being appointed manager in June, Voetbal International reported that Vitesse sought out Chelsea’s advise "several times" before naming a manager. In addition, the recommendations of Piet de Visser appeared to carry considerable weight.
Last week, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported in three different stories that Vitesse is increasingly becoming a "subsidiary of Chelsea" and that Chelsea board member Marina Granovskaia would be assuming a large role in Vitesse’s business operations. Granovskaia is likely the most powerful woman in football, and is a long-time adviser of Roman Abramovich. She has been working for Abramovich since she graduated from Moscow State University in 1997, and has held positions at Sibneft (the oil company which Abramovich sold a controlling share of for more than £13 billion in 2006), Millhouse (Abramovich’s asset management company), and of course, Chelsea. Before being elevated to the board, Granovskaia had served as Abramovich’s de facto representative in board meetings as well as in transfer deals.
While the full extent of Granovskaia’s role in transfer deals at Stamford Bridge has only been speculated upon by the media, it appears as though she handles the finances of potential transfers at the highest level, while Michael Emenalo handles the scouting, tactical assessments and (along with Mourinho) the footballing needs of the club at the highest level. Put simply, it seems fair to say that if Granovskaia does not control the purse strings at Chelsea, she at least has a firm grasp on them (The Telegraph goes as far as to ask whether it is Granovskaia that deserves the moniker of "The Special One" over Mourinho. I think we can emphatically answer "no" to that, but she is an extremely important figure within the club). She certainly had something to do with the Edinson Cavani business (or, lack thereof) last summer, as evidenced by the fact that Napoli owner Aurelio de Laurentiis felt the need to sing about her.
Regardless of the specific nature of her role, the experience Granovskaia brings to Vitesse is nothing short of a coup for the Arnhem side. Her "loan" to Vitesse only serves to further solidify not only the partnership between the two clubs, but also Chelsea’s ever-increasing influence on the decisions being made at Vitesse both in the boardroom as well as on the pitch.
While Chelsea and Vitesse have not yet homogenised any of their sponsorship deals (perhaps most visibly, the Chelsea kit is, of course, manufactured by adidas, whereas Vitesse’s kits are manufactured by their direct competitor, Nike), De Telegraaf specifically highlights how the trio of Vitesse directors (CEO Joost de Wit, technical director Mo Allach, and commercial director Peter Gansler) take direction from Granovskaia on the marketing of the Dutch club. It will be interesting to see if Samsung, Gazprom, Audi, or Singha beer signage starts cropping up in Gelredome. At the very least, I would hope that the club takes advantage of its name (Vitesse literally means "speed" in French) and joins Chelsea’s partnership with the Sauber F1 team.
On the Development of the Nederlandse Blues
With a few notable exceptions, most of the players Chelsea has sent to Vitesse do not project to provide significant contributions at Stamford Bridge.
That said, in this new era of financial fair play, Chelsea has a vested financial interest in helping as many young prospects as it can reach their fullest potential. Developing prospects and selling them for a net profit is an, as yet, largely untapped revenue source that will help Chelsea offset its high transfer expenditures and player wage bill. In addition, in the few situations where youngsters develop into the calibre of player that can help the parent club, Chelsea will have saved itself millions in transfer fees that it would otherwise be forced to pay another club for a comparable player.
Note that of the eleven players Chelsea has sent to Vitesse, only Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, Sam Hutchinson, and Lucas Piazon (Piazon acquired Italian, and therefore European Union, citizenship through the doctrine of jure sanguinis) were eligible to play in England.
The First Wave
In September 2010, just weeks after Chigirinsky/Jordania/Abramovich became involved at Vitesse, Chelsea sent its first trio of players to Arnhem: Nemanja Matic, Matej Delac, and Slobodan Rajković.
Nemanja Matic: Originally scheduled to spend the full 2010-2011 season at Vitesse, Matic was sold to Benfica in January 2011 as part of the deal that brought David Luiz to Stamford Bridge. Admittedly, I did not watch much Eredivisie football during the fall of 2010, but those that did have opined Matic’s run of form at Vitesse enabled Chelsea to turn what was an original £1.5m investment into a £5m offset of David Luiz’ transfer fee. This would have been a nice little piece of business, had Matic not blossomed into one of the better defensive midfielders in Europe, and had he not won last year’s Primeira Liga player of the year, increasing his valuation quite a bit more than £5m.
While Chelsea probably definitely would have been better served coughing up the extra £5m and hanging on to Matic, his time at Vitesse significantly increased his value and while I am not well-versed in finer points of Matic’s developmental curve to make any sort of definitive claims, it certainly appears as though he was in good hands at Vitesse.
Slobodan Rajković: Rajković was loaned to Vitesse in 2010 after spending three seasons in the Eredivisie with other clubs (two seasons with FC Twente, one with PSV).
Given his experience in the Eredivisie (and having won two titles in the past three seasons), Rajković actually captained Vitesse on a number of occasions during the 2010-2011 season. He started in 24 of the 30 possible matches, and the six games he missed were due to a back injury he sustained towards the end of the season.
In August 2011, Chelsea sold him to Hamburger SV for £1.7 million. While Chelsea originally paid £4.5m for him back in 2006 (with wages and other developmental costs, Chelsea’s total investment in Rajković was north of £6m), the sale was actually good business for Chelsea, since it helped reduce (if only by a bit) the 2011-2012 expenditures for financial fair play reporting and Rajković never seemed close to being able to secure a work permit in England.
Matej Delac: Once upon a time, Matej Delac had an extremely bright future. Just ten days after his 17th birthday, he was on the bench in World Cup qualifiers against England and Belarus, making him the youngest Croatian ever to be called up to the senior international team (remember, this is a country that fields the likes of Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic). In fact, as late as 2011, he was considered by most to be the natural successor to Petr Cech (of course, this was pre-Courtois).
Unfortunately, Delac’s career has stalled a bit since then, to put it mildly. While his loan to Vitesse wasn’t the only problem in the overall (mis)handling of Delac’s development, it marked the beginning of a long series of unsuccessful loan spells.
Delac, the only member of the inaugural class of 2010 who is still under Chelsea’s control, did not make a single appearance for Vitesse in the 37 matches that were contested during his time in Arnhem.
Delac has been the victim of extremely poor mishandling during. After spending the year riding the bench at Vitesse, he spent the following two years sitting on benches in the Czech Republic for a team that has since been relegated to the second Czech division and for middling Portuguese team Vitória de Guimarães.
Until Delac was loaned back to his original club, Inter Zapresic (where he had been the first-choice keeper when he was 16 years old), for a few months last spring, he had not participated in a professional football match since leaving Zapresic over four years ago.
Delac is currently with Serbian club FK Vojvodina and thankfully appears to be back on track. He helped Vojvodina make a solid run in the Europa League qualifying matches before eventually losing to FC Sheriff Tiraspol in the final playoff round before the group stages. In addition, while I unfortunately do not subscribe to the television channel that broadcasts the Serbian SuperLiga, Steve’s weekly loan reports and a cursory look at the league table show that Delac and Vojvodina are off to a promising start to the 2013-2014 campaign.
It is extremely unlikely that Delac will ever play at Stamford Bridge, given the fact that there are at least four keepers ahead of him at the moment (Cech, Schwarzer, Courtois, Blackman) and he has still yet to play in a top league. Still only 21, Delac still has nearly two years left on his contract, so there is plenty of time for him to take a step forward, but he’ll have to take a major leap if he wants to remain with the club.
The Second Wave
Tomas Kalas: Kalas joined Vitesse for the 2011-2012 season as an eighteen year old. He had previously spent six months with the Chelsea reserves after coming over from Czech club Sigma Olomouc. He started 37 of 39 possible matches for Vitesse that season and most Chelsea supporters thought Kalas was ready for a bigger challenge.
However, he was sent back to Arnhem to for the 2012-2013 season. Having already established himself as a mainstay in the back line, Kalas played in all but two matches (he missed one game due to picking up a red card against Anzhi in the Europa League qualifiers and was rested in an early-round domestic cup match that Vitesse easily won 4-0).
Having played at centre-back his entire career, Kalas was deployed almost exclusively at right back last season. While Kalas had occasionally played on the right prior to last season, he had never played the position with any semblance of regularity.
Kalas also won the best young Czech footballer award last year, beating out the likes of Matěj Vydra, the Udinese man who scored 20 goals while on loan to Watford.
Importantly, Kalas has nothing but good things to say about his time at Vitesse. In addition with crediting his time at Vitesse for his improved "quality on the ball," he seemed appreciative for the opportunity to play consistent first team football (something nearly all young players need in order to maximise their potential).
Now 20, Kalas will likely make his first team debut at some point this season (after suffering a leg injury during the pre-season, he has been working his way back to fitness and started training with the reserves a few months ago).
Ulises Davila: Davila was sent to Vitesse immediately after Chelsea signed him from Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara in August 2011 for about £1.7m. While the then-20 year old only appeared in three matches and totalled a mere 188 minutes of playing time during the 2011-2012 season, it seems like Vitesse was a solid, if unspectacular way for Davila to cut his teeth in European football. In Davila’s own words, his time at Vitesse has allowed him to develop into a two-way footballer as well as make the adjustments to a quicker and more physical brand of football than he was used to in the Mexican league.
In addition, to the club’s credit, Vitesse seemingly recognised the cultural and linguistic challenges that Davila would face upon moving to a new continent with only his native Spanish at his disposal. To that end, Vitesse had a Spanish-speaking assistant coach stay close to Davila to translate for him.
It is extremely unlikely that Davila will ever have the privilege of suiting up for Chelsea. While still quite young at age 22, Davila is almost two years older than Romelu Lukaku, is older than Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, and is a mere three months younger than Eden Hazard. Stating the obvious, Davila is light years behind these lads (in addition to just about all of the other attacking players currently with the club or out on loan).
The Current Crop
Chelsea currently have six players in the Gelderlands, two of whom were at the club last year (Patrick van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta), and four newcomers who are having varying degrees of success acclimating to the Eredivisie (Lucas Piazon, Cristian Cuevas, Christian Atsu, and Sam Hutchinson).
Patrick van Aanholt: After a series of unfruitful loan spells in England (he had stops in Coventry City, Newcastle, Leicester City, and Wigan), van Aanholt was sent back to his native Holland in January 2012.
He’s been at Vitesse ever since, and during that time, he’s blossomed into what Juni at The Chels’ calls the best left back in the Eredivisie. Van Aanholt likely could have made a leap to a bigger club this season, but given that his top priority is consistent first team football (which he will need if he wants to achieve his goal of being selected to be part of the Dutch contigent at this summer’s World Cup), it makes sense for all involved that he remain at Vitesse for one final season. Indeed, van Aanholt himself recognises that at this point in his career, playing time is a must: "I can’t develop enough sitting on the bench watching Cole play. I mean, he’s great but I need time to play. I need to make minutes, hours on the pitch."
Gael Kakuta: Kakuta moved to Vitesse for the 2012-2013 season, and that deal has since been renewed for this season.
A former Academy Player of the Year, Kakuta has been with the club since 2007, when he joined as a sixteen year old. Although he became the youngest Chelsea player to appear in a Champions League match (a record that has since been broken by Josh McEachran), he played sparingly for Chelsea during the eighteen or so months that he was training with the first team. After a series of poor loan spells in England (Fulham and Bolton), he moved back to his native France to play for Ligue 1 side Dijon in January 2012 for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season. After scoring four goals in his first six Ligue 1 starts, things fell apart a bit, as he found himself in the middle of a power struggle between the manager and the sporting director. As a result, the manager simply stopped selecting Kakuta towards the end of the season.
During his first season at Vitesse, Kakuta started 28 of 37 matches, scoring twice and recording six assists from the left wing. Kakuta was injured to start this season, and Vitesse has slowly begun working him back into the squad via late-game substitutions until he is fully fit. Kakuta received his first start on 30 October in a domestic cup match against third-division VV Noordwijk and scored a brace, so hopefully he'll be starting in Eredivisie matches soon.
Cristian Cuevas: Vitesse was an interesting destination for the young Chilean left back, since fellow loanee Patrick van Aanholt is firmly entrenched in Cuevas’ preferred position. Cuevas can also apparently play on the wing, but with Piazon, Kakuta, and Atsu already there (though Kakuta can, and likely will, play centrally once he’s fit), it seems unlikely that he’ll get many opportunities to play first team football at Vitesse this season.
From Vitesse’s perspective, it makes sense to add Cuevas to the squad for depth purposes. However, from Chelsea’s (and surely Cuevas’) perspective, it doesn’t make sense to loan out a youngster to a club that isn’t going to give him the opportunity to maximise his development.
Lucas Piazon: After training with the first team during the beginning of last season, but after only playing in a few league cup matches and making one substitute appearance in that 8-0 romp against Aston Villa (where Piazon failed to convert a penalty) he was sent to Malaga for the second half of the season. After picking up four starts and making eleven total La Liga appearances, it seems like Mourinho and Emanelo decided that it was necessary for Piazon to take a step back in order to make a leap forward. That is, it appears as though they decided to send Piazon to a smaller club in a smaller league in order to ensure that he would receive the first team football that his development curve requires.
However, Piazon told Peter McVitie that he doesn’t consider Vitesse to be a drop-off from Malaga – "I saw [Vitesse] as a good opportunity to get experience and play a full season and also to learn and improve myself. I don’t see it as a step down, it’s not a problem. I just want to play games and get better."
The young Brazilian has already made quite an impression during his short time in Arnhem. He has started in all eleven Eredivisie matches since joining Vitesse, has five goals, four assists, and has been named man of the match four times. According to our own Stephen Schmidt, Piazon has "easily been Vitesse’s best player this season."
Christian Atsu: Juni over at The Chels aptly summarises Atsu’s situation in his own article about the Vitesse partnership (which I highly recommend). Juni astutely points out that "whilst [Atsu’s move from Porto to Vitesse] may appear a step down from a perennial Champions League challenger to a team no longer in Europe at all, the Eredivisie represents a more physical, quicker league than the Portuguese top flight and an experience much closer to the English league he will hope to eventually play in. The most curious element of the move, however, is that he plays in much the same position as both Cuevas and Piazon, and Chelsea could run the risk of one of their group not playing as much as they would have liked."
Since making the most of his fourteen minute debut in the beginning of October (in which he sent a cross into the box that provided the opportunity for curiously named Japanese striker Mike Havenaar to find the back of the net), Atsu has started in each of the last five matches. In Vitesse’s most recent match, on November 9th against FC Utrecht, Atsu was chosen to take a penalty kick, which he converted for his first Eredivisie goal.
Sam Hutchinson: Hutchinson remarkably overcame what was once thought to be a career-ending knee injury and has been slowly working his way back into professional football since early 2012.
He was sent to Vitesse this season, likely because Vitesse needed additional depth at the back. Hutchinson began the season training with the reserves while acclimating to life in Arnhem and working his way back to fitness after picking up an injury.
Hutchinson made his debut in a domestic cup match, drawing the start and playing 66 minutes being forced off with an injury. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to have been serious, as he appeared briefly just a few days later against Ajax, coming on in a time-wasting substitution in the 90th minute. Since returning to fitness, he has mostly been on the bench as an unused substitute.
The fact that Hutchinson is even able to train is a feat in itself, let alone play at the competitive level that the Eredivisie demands. While it’s almost impossible to imagine him playing first team minutes for Chelsea again, the club has made it clear that Hutchinson will always have a place at Stamford Bridge (likely in a support or coaching role).
A Brief Financial Accounting
Chelsea has spent approximately £43m on the eleven players it has sent to Vitesse over the past three years12Player’s full transfer fee plus wages paid while at Vitesse, including wages owed during the 2013-2014 season. (note that this is figure represents Chelsea’s actual financial outlay. This number would be reduced if we were using UEFA’s FFP accounting practises). It has received about £6.7m from the transfer sales of Matic and Rajkovic, and has retained nine players of varying quality. While speculating on future transfer values is best left to Michael Emenalo and company, one needs only to look at the career trajectories of our nine players who have spent time at Vitesse to know that Chelsea is very likely to see a positive return on its investment.
In large part due to extremely strict FA work permit regulations and British immigration law, Chelsea has recognised the necessity to form a strategic partnership with a club located somewhere where work permit regulations are easier to obtain for it’s non-European prospects.
The combination of relaxed work permit regulations in the Netherlands, the emphasis the Eredivisie places on youth development, possession football, and technical skills, and the fact that Chelsea had previous experience working with an Eredivisie club makes Vitesse an ideal fit for Chelsea.
Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, "if you do not seek out allies and helpers, then you will be isolated and weak." As applied to strategic partnerships, the words ring as true now as they did when they were first written over 2,500 years ago.
Roman Abramovich, Bruce Buck, Michael Emenalo, and lately, Marina Granovskaia, have built Chelsea Football Club into a global footballing empire, rivalled only by the two Spanish giants, the Manchester clubs, and Bayern Munich13Sorry Italy, French upstarts, and that other London club with a penchant for red, yellow and purple.. The true test of an empire is its ability to not only withstand, but also successfully rise to the challenges of the globalised landscape. With regards to Chelsea, the present and future challenges take the form UEFA’s financial fair play regulations and the FA’s restrictive work permit regulations.
The "clever sharks" have been swimming towards successfully acclimating to the age of financial fair play for quite some time, and a large part of that lies in the club’s realization that continuing to invest significant resources into its global scouting network and youth development system will yield a return in the form of quality players that can make positive contributions at Stamford Bridge. By developing from within, Chelsea not only has the ability to control an important part of the player’s developmental progress, but it also provides cost-effective talent that would otherwise have to be purchased on the highly inflated transfer market. While Chelsea earns enough revenue to continue spending heavily in the transfer market, the days of unlimited spending are over.
Chelsea has wisely tasked Michael Emenalo with developing a global scouting network. This network has has led to Chelsea signing and then subsequently loaning more players than just about every other club on the planet.
Chelsea currently has twenty-four players on loan, more than double that of any other Premier League club. In fact, only three Premier League clubs have more total players on loan than Chelsea has at Vitesse alone — only Arsenal, Spurs, and Liverpool have more.
One needs only to look to Chelsea’s business in Belgium alone to see how this model has already started to pay off. Romelu Lukaku (Anderlecht), Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne (both Genk), and the younger Hazard (Lens, but born in Belgium) have all proven to be extremely good investments, after spending time playing first time football during their respective loans. Chelsea's commitment to those four totals £52.3m. I'm not going to try to put a valuation on the players, but suffice it to say, they are becoming increasingly valuable commodities by the day.
Without the Vitesse partnership, Chelsea would be leaving much more to chance when sending its non-European youngsters to the continent, where work permits are much easier to procure than in England. At Vitesse, Chelsea has the benefit of exercising an increasing amount of control in every facet of the club, from the decisions being made in the boardroom to the decisions being made on the pitch. This creates a unique environment where the success and development of Chelsea’s loanees are made a top priority.
Despite the significant benefits Chelsea receives from this partnership, it is Vitesse that is actually getting the better end of this deal. The Chelsea partnership provides Vitesse access to talent that would otherwise be unavailable to them, from Chelsea executives like Michael Emenalo and Marina Granovskaia advising in the boardroom to burgeoning legend Lucas Piazon, one of the best left backs in the Eredivisie, Patrick van Aanholt, and mainstay Gael Kakuta on the pitch. Further, without Chelsea, Vitesse almost certainly has no Russian billionaire owner of it’s own in Alexander Chigirinsky. Most importantly, without Abramovich, Chigirinsky, and Jordania stepping in three years ago, Vitesse would likely still be tens of millions of sterling pounds in debt and relegated from the Eredivisie, rather than sitting at the top of the table, with not only their first-ever Eredivisie title, but also Champions League football within reach.
While putting this article together, the author relied heavily on years of archived loan reports from WAGNH’s own Stephen Schmidt and The Chels’ Juni. An inordinate amount of work goes into these reports and they provide tactical insights that, without hyperbole, cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. The author encourages anyone who is interested in keeping tabs on Chelsea’s loanees to make it a point to read the loan reports that Steve and Juni tirelessly produce each week.
In addition, the author strongly benefitted from the expertise of Peter McVitie, who is the best English-language source of all things Eredivisie that the author has come across. McVitie generously donated his time to provide some much-needed insight into the Eredivisie. Lastly, while conducting his research, the author read dozens of articles from BeNeFoot, an excellent English-language site that provides comprehensive coverage of the Eredivisie and the Belgian Pro League.