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World Cup showcases Chelsea brand

November 22, 2005 11:23 IST

For English champions Chelsea, a club that harbours ambitions for soccer domination lasting 100 years, the World Cup next June will be a valuable publicity exercise.

The London side, with grand plans to wrest popularity and marketing power from the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona, will have a real chance to show off in Germany where 16 of their squad will compete.

Of first-team regulars only Damien Duff of Ireland and Iceland's Eidur Gudjohnsen will be taking early holidays next June while team mates battle in 10 different national sides to earn the ultimate soccer accolade.

Since Russian billionaire oil magnate Roman Abramovich bought the club, wiping out some 80 million pounds ($137 million) of debt and ploughing 300 million into players, Chelsea's ambitions have increased exponentially.

In the preface to a recent history detailing 100 years of Chelsea, the Russian revealed something of his vision of worldwide dominance for the club, who won their first title since 1955 in his second season in charge.

"Of course, it's 50 years since our last title and I know that everybody at the club will be working hard to ensure that we won't have to wait that long again," he wrote.

"I hope to carry this forward in the true blue tradition of Chelsea but also to build even stronger foundations to last us for the next hundred years."

Abramovich's unparalleled buying power has understandably prompted envy but also fears that Chelsea's wealth will skew competition at home and in Europe, inflating transfer costs and player prices.

Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter has had a go. While avoiding naming Chelsea directly last month, he accused owners of the world's richest clubs of "wild-west style capitalism" fuelled by "pornographic amounts of money" that gave the wealthy minority control of the game.

COLD SHOULDER

Chelsea have also suffered a cold shoulder from Europe's top clubs, who voted again last week to exclude the West London 'arrivistes' from the G14 pressure group of elite sides.

"We have the stature to be there -- as member of G14 -- but for whatever reason we are not. It is one of those things," chief executive Peter Kenyon said.

Kenyon is the key mover in Chelsea's plans to become the most popular football brand worldwide.

Abramovich poached him from Manchester United, whose profile he raised enormously in Asia and America through the team's domestic and European success -- and David Beckham.

Under Kenyon, Chelsea have changed shirt sponsor to Samsung in an 11-million-pound deal, looking at building a fan base in China where the South Korean electronics firm is a big force.

China has a huge potential market. Kenyon says he is also targeting the US as well as Russia because the Abramovich factor is turning many Russians into Chelsea fans.

Kenyon says his plans provide for the team to become self-sustaining within five years, no longer needing to rely on Abramovich's handouts.

Part of his strategy is to make Chelsea's name synonymous with London, as a springboard to spreading the brand elsewhere. It is an ambition understandably scorned by Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and the capital's other clubs.

Chelsea, he says, were the first club to throw support behind London's ultimately successful 2012 Olympic bid, are based at the right (west) end of one of the top three cities in the world and have the right profile to attract floating overseas support.

FASHIONABLE IMAGE

Though traditionally underachievers, Chelsea have enjoyed a fashionable image, epitomised by the trend-setting team of the 1960s and early 70s who won the FA Cup and Cup Winners' Cup but were almost as famous for their flowing locks, paisley kipper ties and night-clubbing antics along the King's Road.

At the end of the last century Ruud Gullit brought sexy football -- and trophies -- to Stamford Bridge, a trend continued by suave Italian striker-turned-manager Gianluca Vialli.

The league title eluded Chelsea, however, until Abramovich brought in coach Jose Mourinho. The 42-year-old Portuguese fits Chelsea's image, his glowering good looks and confidence putting the swagger back in the club.

Mourinho's side won the title by a 12-point canter last season and are nine points clear already this term. Continued success is vital to Kenyon's plans.

"The success on the field is what drives business off the field," he said, adding that pressure to succeed was immense.

Last season's title has fuelled Kenyon's push for glory. British newspapers say retailers report Chelsea shirts are outselling Manchester United's by four to one.

For Chelsea really to compete with the other world soccer heavyweights, however, success must soon include the European Cup. Mourinho won it with Porto; Chelsea have been knocked out in the semi-finals for the last two years.

A couple of Champions League hiccups over the last few weeks, including defeat at Real Betis, have made qualification tougher with Chelsea, Liverpool and Betis in the running for two places. Wednesday's tie away at Anderlecht looks crucial to the Chelsea masterplan.

 

Clare Lovell
Source:
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