Chelsea staring at own economic downturn

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Let's begin by stating the following: Chelsea is not looking for a buyer.

You've got to be careful these days about making claims of a team sale. Just last week, a British newspaper was issued with a libel action for daring to suggest that Roman Abramovich was seeking to sell his stake in the Stamford Bridge club.

So, if the Russian billionaire is sticking around, Chelsea has nothing to worry about, right?

Not so fast.

Abramovich's activities in his business life are starting to cause genuine concerns in the blue corner of West London, where fans are deeply fearful of an end to the era of increased fortunes that started with his arrival in 2003.

Already, head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has had to work under restrictions in the transfer market, and for once it is another club – Manchester City – and not Chelsea that is the biggest player in the January window.

Reports in England suggest Abramovich was annoyed with comments from chief scout Frank Arnesen last year which indicated that strict cutbacks had been put into place. Then there is the sale, reported by the Observer newspaper, of just under $18 million worth of shares in Highland Gold, a gold-mining company, for a fraction of the price Abramovich paid 13 months ago. Talk in financial circles suggests Abramovich's decision to offload the stocks for such a relatively small sum compared to his overall wealth means he may be having liquidity issues.

Chelsea's recent success, with English Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006 and the runner-up spot in last season's Champions League, was funded by the oil-drenched ruble. Jose Mourinho built a team with it before he and the owner reached an impossible difference of opinion, but despite around $400 million of spending in 5½ years, Scolari's squad is starting to look in need of fresh legs. Deco has been a disappointment since arriving last summer and Didier Drogba's days as a Chelsea player look to be numbered.

A couple of years ago, Chelsea fans had none of these worries. If a position needed filling, Abramovich filled it. But if the bottomless pit of cash continues to dry up, then it will take all of Scolari's know-how to keep the club near the summit of European soccer.

Weekend First XI

1. Get him an Advil

Brazilian superstar Ronaldo has been up to his old tricks after moving back to his homeland with Corinthians. The unfit and overweight 32-year-old has been handed a special training program aimed at getting him into condition to make a first-team appearance, yet he was spotted emerging from a nightclub at 6 a.m. last week. Incredibly, coach Mano Menezes defended the player, insisting he had not flouted any club regulations.

2. Get him a beer

David Beckham's loan spell with AC Milan is going better than he could ever have imagined. The weekend brought a third consecutive start and a spectacular goal – Beckham's first for the club. Previously, the Los Angeles Galaxy's biggest fear was that Beckham would get injured while in Italy. Now the Major League Soccer side must be seriously concerned that he won't want to come back at all.

3. Get him some earplugs

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Mark Hughes' office when Robinho reports for training at Manchester City this week. The Brazilian's sudden departure from a team training camp infuriated Hughes, and a heated argument between the men is inevitable.

4. Four corners

• Does anyone deserve a new contract more than the evergreen Ryan Giggs?

• Surely Toronto FC will use Dwayne De Rosario as its chief playmaker after committing him to a four-year deal?

• Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson is happy that the Da Silva brothers will be making long trips to South America for internationals instead of the short hop to Portugal?

• Is Wilson Palacios' Premier League rise one of CONCACAF's biggest success stories?

5. Catch a flight to …

Poland and Ukraine. Sure, Euro 2012 is still three years away, but at least the co-hosts finally appear to be getting their act together. Much infrastructural work is still needed in preparation for the tournament. However, UEFA chiefs now seem satisfied the event will not need to be moved.

6. A round of applause for …

Lionel Messi. Two more superb goals from the Argentina sensation helped Barcelona to a 4-1 victory against Numancia and a 12-point lead at the top of La Liga.

7. Get them a Kleenex

Jose Mourinho. The Inter Milan boss was not happy despite his team's 1-0 victory over Sampdoria. Mourinho was banished to the stands for complaining bitterly about the standard of refereeing and afterward insisted officials had favored his opponents.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Michael Owen. According to the Sunday Mirror, the Los Angeles Galaxy are contemplating a move for the Newcastle United striker before the end of the January transfer window. We'll believe it when we see it.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Rafael Marquez. The Mexico captain could be out for his team's crucial World Cup qualifier against the United States on Feb. 11. That's a real blow to Mexican hopes of victory in Columbus.

10. Get excited about …

Rumors are growing that President Barack Obama is planning to attend D.C. United's season opener against the Chicago Fire on March 28 in a nationally televised game.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Check out Giorgia Palmas, who is dating Bologna's Davide Bombardini.