Graeme Le Saux: “We must tackle the pure domination of money” | Soccer

“I went to Newcastle against Chelsea. That game brought up an uncomfortable truth about football, ownership and the way our game is run.

At the time good soccer men didn’t talk much about politics and certainly no uncomfortable truths. Football people should probably talk a lot more about these things, if only because they seem so determined to crash on the main stage. Uncomfortable truths: That’s the game now.

Graeme Le Saux spent 11 years at Chelsea in two spells, leaving the same summer that Roman Abramovich arrived, 2003. He works as a Premier League analyst for NBC and also has a non-executive director role with Real Mallorca, a club belonging to the United States. real estate billionaire Robert Sarver.

If it gives him some leeway, a locus standi on the current shemozzle around the ownership of football clubs, there are other elements as well. Le Saux has always been committed and politically unconventional. These things are relative. In pre-modern football, any kind of politics, even the most centrist of reading the Guardian and engaging in museums with the rest of the world, seemed radical enough.

While that quality once made Le Saux an outsider, there are certain benefits to being able to speak with some awareness of the challenges the supercharged game faces, as well as being willing to step into the kind of tough places that make you wish the former left-back still hung like a face on the Match of the Day sofa.

“Of course Eddie Howe doesn’t want to be asked about the executions,” he says of that afternoon when the Saudi instrument of the PIF encountered the plaything of a sanctioned Putin associate. “It makes him very uncomfortable.

“That’s the dilemma. When do you put your principles before those you work for? Everyone must answer it themselves. If he [Howe] is happy to push back on those questions with the answers he gave, so people will judge him based on that.

“As a player I felt I had principles, that I tried to use my position to include how I felt about things. It’s not as simple as saying it’s abhorrent , right? Or maybe it is.

The issue closest to Le Saux’s heart is the ongoing sale of Chelsea, from the club’s treatment at the hands of a government he has ‘zero trust’ to the shadow cast over the past 19 years. have passed and frustration that English football is missing a chance. reset the functioning of its governance.

“There was a lot of noise around the sale. The people who bid got a lot of publicity which I guess came from them,” he says. “But do any of us really know what the process is? Is it going to be based on the highest bidder or the correct bidder? Are any of these decisions based on a set of principles or values?

“Football has a choice of direction of travel. There is an opportunity to change the model now, where people value the sustainability of a football club over whoever funds it. But we’re going to come out in the same place with the same uncertainties. It’s a huge wasted opportunity.

For Le Saux, part of the frustration is seeing football being asked to solve problems that are also present in the power structures around it. “Just look at the relationship between Russian money and politics, if that’s the focus of our attention right now. If we go back six weeks, Roman Abramovich owning Chelsea was no problem for the British government, despite what they already knew. There is clearly an inconsistency in the value and standards that we impose on certain industries. And it seems football always has to carry the burden.

Graeme Le Saux in action for Chelsea in 1999. Photography: Graham Whitby-Boot/ Sportsphoto/Sportsphoto Ltd.

“There is a huge lack of confidence at the moment. There are real concerns around the institutions that are supposed to be there to support us. Look at the problems in politics and in things like the police. If there was trust in the way our country is run, you might not be asking these questions. When now we are all asking who is going to serve self-interest in this deal? »

With that in mind, does he really think footballers can be expected to take the lead on these moral issues? “Ultimately it comes down to the sacrifices you’re willing to make,” says Le Saux. “Will someone say, ‘I’m not going to play for this club for this reason, it goes against my fundamentals’? I think some players would. I’m sure players will care about it.

“If I was in the Chelsea dressing room on the day of the game against Newcastle, I would have worn a Stop The War t-shirt in support of Ukraine. Everyone had the opportunity and continues to say that it is the new era for Chelsea.

“But that’s where leadership is important. The big question is should football, the Premier League, the Football Association put players in the position where they have to make these moral decisions? Should fans do it? We are all asked to uphold our own morality.

“That’s why we need leadership and governance to chart a course through these very difficult issues. These principles should be locked away in one of these buildings, not at the feet of a football player.

There is also sympathy for those whose jobs are at risk. “The government felt the need to sanction the oligarchs, but I don’t think they have the first idea of ​​the impact on the fans and on everyone who works at the club, from players to coaching staff to behind-the-scenes employees,” says Le Saux.

“People are very quick to put the shoe on when something is wrong – that’s one of the ‘jokes’ in football. So I’m not surprised that some Chelsea fans feel confused by that. It’s not about to be the victim there are people who are getting bombarded, these are not football fans but they woke up overnight with the club they have supported for so many years in full swing tormented.

Graeme Le Saux after a victory for Real Mallorca in 2019.
Graeme Le Saux after a victory for Real Mallorca in 2019. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

“How do they find this pride, this link with the club? This is an important part of this takeover. We cannot let the situation drag on in this strange limbo. At the same time, it would be a disaster if we rushed an offer without considering the opportunities and the longer-term plan. »

The longer term plan: This is always the hardest part. Le Saux is quite radical on the idea of ​​structural, even philosophical, change. “The big change for me is trying to address the sheer dominance of money. It creates so many other problems. It creates inflation. It creates the imbalance that has been clear for some time .

“Look at Chelsea. Roman has invested £1.5bn of his own money to make the club so dominant. You think if that’s what’s required, is that how we really want the game to exist? The amounts are simply mind-boggling.

“We allowed every decision to be based on money. Nobody should be surprised to talk about a super league because big clubs always need more fuel in the top of the tank. Can we reset this? Rather than choosing Chelsea for the highest bidder, are we trying to add an idea of ​​integrity into the mix? Once club valuation is achieved, can the government or regulator say it is time to look at sustainability and fan engagement and rely on a different model?

“There has to be a will in football to see change, to show restraint. Salary caps are difficult because then you say, well, the money goes underground. But that shouldn’t stop you to try to regulate and find a balance.

“I work with Mallorca and financial fair play has prevented us from investing, because although the owners wanted to invest in reasonable things, the salary cap is so small that we have to make sure that the money continues to bring the first team at a competitive level FFP punishes smaller clubs and benefits bigger clubs.

For now, Le Saux will be glued to the outcome of the season, but with some reservations about what the next few months could bring to his former club. Thomas Tuchel was the pin that held the player side together. How long can we expect him to stay in there?

“Tuchel has been great for the Premier League, he’s fascinating when he talks about tactics, he has this great emotional intelligence,” says Le Saux. “But he will be as shocked and confused as everyone else. And people aren’t going to say, ‘Let’s give Chelsea time and let them sort it out.’ They’re going to say, “Who can we get now because they’re all going to be discounted?”

“One of the biggest problems Chelsea face is cash flow. Can they get enough money to keep paying everyone? It looks like an absolute mess.

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