Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

The most sig­nif­i­cant event in Chelsea’s re­cent his­tory may not be a cup fi­nal, nor the lat­est man­age­rial un­veil­ing. It could end up be­ing some­thing that hap­pened on a non­de­script March morn­ing in Wilt­shire. When Sergei and Yu­lia Skri­pal were poi­soned in Sal­is­bury with mil­i­tary-grade nerve agent Novi­chok, it in­creased diplo­matic ten­sions be­tween the United King­dom and Rus­sia to such an ex­tent that Ro­man Abramovich’s in­vestor visa may have been de­layed.

The Blues’ owner be­came so fed up with wait­ing for a de­ci­sion that he with­drew his own ap­pli­ca­tion on June 1, one day after the club an­nounced that plans for their long-awaited $1.8 bil­lion re­build of Stam­ford Bridge were shelved in­def­i­nitely be­cause of “the cur­rent un­favourable in­vest­ment cli­mate”.

The Rus­sian oli­garch (above) has now got Is­raeli ci­ti­zen­ship, which al­lows him un­re­stricted travel to the UK, but not of­fi­cially for work pur­poses. Few could ar­gue if the 51-year-old did de­cide to scale back his in­ter­ests in a coun­try that shows few signs of ac­tu­ally want­ing him as even a semi-per­ma­nent res­i­dent.

In fact, the num­bers would sug­gest that he be­gan par­ing back his in­vest­ment some time ago any­way. Sure, the Lon­don­ers may have splurged $400 mil­lion on trans­fer fees last sea­son – more than ever be­fore, and $100m on striker Al­varo Mo­rata alone – but that’s in­dica­tive more of an in­flated post-Ney­mar mar­ket than Abramovich’s de­sire to pur­chase only the best. Danny Drinkwa­ter for $60m, any­one?

Even al­low­ing for the cost of liv­ing at foot­ball’s top ta­ble these days, the last four sea­sons from 2014-15 brought a net spend from Chelsea of $120m. In the four pre­vi­ous cam­paigns, it was $490m. Go back to Abramovich’s first two years in town, from 2003, and they spent $535m, re­coup­ing a lit­tle over £5m.

True, Chelsea are now ex­cel­lent sellers, or rather traders – the club re­ceived $210m for Diego Costa, Ne­manja Matic and Nathan Ake last term – but they have to be. If the Blues are to go big in this sum­mer’s trans­fer mar­ket, they must sell as well as buy.

An­to­nio Conte’s vis­i­ble frus­tra­tion at this sit­u­a­tion in­fected 2017-18’s ul­ti­mately in­sipid ti­tle de­fence. For­mer Napoli boss Mau­r­izio Sarri even­tu­ally re­placed his com­pa­triot on July 14 – he must ac­cept that the five-time Pre­mier League win­ners’ fi­nan­cial mus­cle isn’t as at­trac­tively bulging as it once was.

Chelsea now oc­cupy a cu­ri­ous hin­ter­land be­tween the Manch­ester clubs. City are what Chelsea were in Abramovich’s early years, while United have got the world­wide busi­ness model to which the club as­pire. For all the ques­tions last sea­son raised, the big­gest re­mains: what hap­pens if Ro­man pulls the plug?

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