Saudi Arabia and Chelsea FC: Will Football's Latest Conspiracy Really Affect The Premier League?

Published on 26 June 2023 at 13:00

Money makes the world go round, and unfortunately, the football world is no exception. 


In the 21st century alone, Chelsea’s financial backing has catapulted them into being one of the world’s elite clubs, winning 2 Champions League trophies, numerous Premier League titles, and signing some of the biggest names around in their quest for dominance. 


In 2023 however, they’re in a bit of financial trouble. 


Following on from the sale of the club to a consortium led by American investor Todd Boehly, the Blues spent the 2022/23 campaign making mammoth signings on underperforming players, and are at risk of seriously breaching FFP regulations without much-needed Champions League revenue. 


So who could be the Blues’ unlikely saviour in these trying financial times? It wouldn’t be modern English football without the influx of “oil money” to complicate things, and that certainly could be the case here. 


A rapid conspiracy theory has emerged that the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, otherwise known as the PIF, has a close relationship with Boehly and the majority stakeholder in Chelsea, Clearlake Capital.


Controlling the four largest clubs in the Saudi Pro League - Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, and Al Ahli - Saudi Arabian looks to be eyeing a global expansion and reputation, looking towards European stalwarts for the players to help make this happen. Conveniently, Chelsea have a bunch of big name players they’re needing to sell for exorbitant amounts of money, so a mutual agreement can surely be struck up. 


It’s already begun in West London: N’Golo Kante, who has been perhaps the best player at the club since his arrival in 2016, transferred to Al-Ittihad earlier this month. And just this past weekend, Kalidou Koulibaly ended his short nightmare stint at Chelsea by moving to Al-Hilal. 


The movements being made by the Saudi Pro League have already raised alarm bells across the footballing continent. Pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were quick to voice their concerns.


Neville tweeted “The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged.”


“Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions. If it comes through that process, obviously transfers could open up again.


“But I do believe, at this moment in time, transfers should be halted until you look into the ownership structure at Chelsea and whether there are beneficial transfer dealings that are improper.”


His fellow pundit Carragher followed up by saying “I wasn’t worried about the Saudi League taking players in their 30’s, a touch worried with players below the elite (Neves) but if this happens it feels like a game changer…this sports washing needs to be stopped!"


And regarding Chelsea, the Premier League has asked for explicit clarification that the PIF have no ‘influence’ within the club: having already traversed an ownership quagmire with Newcastle United over its state-backed ownership, the Premier League higher-ups will be hoping the current fit and proper tests act as enough of a deterrent to make sure their main man at the top remains Todd Boehly and not another figure like Yasir Al-Rumayyan.


So, pundits, fans and the institution itself are all up in arms over it all, but is this more of a false dawn than the seismic event it’s being reported as?


In the last decade alone, we’ve seen the MLS and the Chinese Super League both emerge as “competitors” threatening to take away major players away from the biggest teams, and sans an ageing Thierry Henry, Lampard and Gerrard, as well as a handful of Brazilian stars, no major change to the status quo has ever been inflicted courtesy of an emerging new football league. 


If an entire World Cup, painstakingly arranged to accommodate the Middle East and its climate, as well as signing the biggest name in the sport’s history wasn’t enough to shift eyes, then frankly nothing ever will. 


So in the short term, Chelsea may find themselves more financially sound than many will have expected them to be, and a few casual eyes may turn to the Saudi Pro League out of pure intrigue, but this is nothing more than a keep calm and carry on situation: the already-implemented regulations, as well as the PIF’s increased focus on Newcastle United really downplays this Clearlake/Blues Partners Limited/Boehly situation as nothing more than Chelsea being the right club at the right time for Saudi’s goals of footballing development. 


It’s when Raheem Sterling soon commands the world record transfer fee to make the move to Jeddah that we start to panic. 

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