"They shall be yours, dear boy, if money can buy 'em. Not that a gentleman like you, so well set up as you, cannot win 'em off his own game; but money shall back you!" - Magwitch to Pip, 'Great Expectations'
Like Charles Dickens' benefactor, Roman Abramovich is the patron whose generous donations arrive out of the ether and whose motives are unknown. Money shall back you, he promises Chelsea, and never more so than this week.
The mysterious Mr Abramovich might no longer be the richest man in possession of an English football club but he retains the capacity to surprise us all in the way that no other owner does. A British world record transfer fee for Fernando Torres in the last week of the January transfer window? This time he really has outdone himself.
Abramovich kicked down the door to English football's elite in 2003 with an acquisition policy as finessed as that of a coach-load of new-money Russian tourists let loose on Bond Street. But the changing trend of his stewardship since then has, with the exception of the occasional self-indulgence (Andrei Shevchenko, Avram Grant), demonstrated he has learned fast.
When the dust has settled on most of Abramovich's big decisions at Chelsea you can just about see the cold, hard logic. Appointing Peter Kenyon? One in the eye for Manchester United. Sacking Jose Mourinho? One row too many. Sacking Luiz Felipe Scolari? The season was going nowhere.
Yet amid the frenzy that has accompanied a £35m bid for Torres – with the potential it may rise today – and another £26m on David Luiz from Benfica one major question is unanswered.
How does the acquisition of Torres and Luiz – a throwback to the days of August 2003 when Abramovich spent millions the way most of us use our Oyster cards – square with Chelsea's plans to keep themselves the right side of Uefa's Financial Fair Play legislation?
The new Uefa governance model requires clubs applying for a license to play in the Champions or Europa League to lose, roughly speaking, no more than £39m over the space of three seasons. By the looks of things, Torres' fee alone could account for that.
The next financial results soon to be released by Chelsea are expected to show, as has always been the case under Abramovich, significant losses. But the club have long focussed on those results due in a year's time which are expected to say they have broken even. This has been Chelsea's aim for years and after all the sneering they have endured they deserve some credit for getting there.
But if they do pay huge fees for Torres and Luiz today those accounts will feel the full impact. Coincidentally, 2011-2012 is the season when Uefa's Financial Fair Play kicks in, with Chelsea eager to make a good impression.
The problem Abramovich wrestles with as he again opens the vaults is that financial fair play will be the least of his problems if his team are not good enough to qualify for the Champions League. He has to strengthen. Almost eight years in English football and he is back at his first strategy: paying big money for the best players of other clubs.
Abramovich had a go at financing an academy that would produce the best young players in the world with mixed results. For all the money and legions of scouts around the world, the best product has been Josh McEachran, a kid from up the M40 in Oxford who was scouted at the age of eight the old-fashioned way.
This month, Gaël Kakuta and Patrick Van Aanholt have quietly been shipped out on loan and Jeffrey Bruma is expected to follow too. These are undoubtedly talented young players but Bruma was supposed to be the reason that Chelsea did not have to replace Ricardo Carvalho who left in the summer. That sounded fanciful then. It seems ridiculous now.
The Chelsea Under-18 team that beat Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup this month had 10 English boys in the side, which suggests that the old plan of cherry-picking European academies has gone out of the window. But while Chelsea wait for the next John Terry to emerge it is the owner's wealth that will have to come to the rescue again.
Under Frank Arnesen, Chelsea tried to buy unknown teenagers who they hoped would become the best players in the world. What they failed to do was buy those players somewhere between the unknowns and the superstars. Those such as Samir Nasri, Luka Modric and Luis Nani, who were all internationals when they came to the Premier League but have since blossomed into outstanding talents.
Perhaps, for his next trick, Abramovich will reveal the plans for a new Chelsea stadium at Sands End gasworks or Earls Court which, as the Emirates did for Arsenal, will yield a bountiful harvest of naming rights and increased matchday revenue to boost profits and fend off Uefa.
Perhaps Abramovich knows exactly how to get what he wants from the blustering Uefa president, Michel Platini, – after all, the Russia 2018 World Cup bid, of which the Chelsea owner was such a key part, seemed to have a hypnotic effect on the committee men in Switzerland who rule football.
But one thing is sure, the days when Abramovich handed over a chunk of his fortune and all Chelsea's problems disappeared are gone, even if Torres and Luiz arrive today. Money shall back you. But these days there are consequences to spending too much of it.
A vacancy at Sky Sports? Partridge was made for it
"Those of you who know me from the world of sport will know that I like having a bit of a chat with brawny men on the rugby field and having a bit of a chat with the soft, fair, waif-like, moist creatures you find in ladies' sports. Please don't write in saying that's sexist. It's not."
Not Richard Keys or Andy Gray, but the great Alan Partridge in 1994, which proves the point that parody is just a forerunner for real life. Any chance that while they search for the new face of Sky Sports, the broadcaster could let Alan – on secondment from North Norfolk Digital – present just one Super Sunday? That would be wonderful. That would be liquid football.
Fifa's mad schedule will make more players follow Park
Fifa's ludicrous indecision over the scheduling of the Asian Cup which ended with it being played right in the middle of the European domestic season had more consequences last week, with, among other things, the news that Park Ji-Sung is retiring from international football.
At 29, and his country's most celebrated player, that cannot have been an easy decision. But, given that Park is being asked to abandon Manchester United at one of the critical periods of the season, he probably felt he had no other option. The longer Fifa makes these kind of mistakes with the calendar there will inevitably be more players doing the same.Reuse content