The press attention given to the John Terry affair over the last week has buried another story involving Chelsea which could potentially have much more damaging implications than unrest in the England dressing room. On Thursday the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) lifted the transfer ban imposed on the Blues following their signing of French teenager Gael Kakuta from FC Lens. The sensational ban, barring Chelsea from buying players until 2011 and imposing hefty financial burdens, was handed down by FIFA in September last year after it was claimed that Kakuta was induced to break his contract with the French club.
The CAS decision stated that “the two clubs and the player have recognised the contract between the player and Lens was not valid.” It is noticeable that the decision does not state whether Chelsea were in the wrong, just that the two clubs came to an agreement and the case was dropped. The case remains suspicious when you compare the difference in the statements made by the clubs during the crisis. Lens President Gervais Martel said when the ban was given, “the player was under contract with us and they came and stole him away from us. Chelsea didn’t follow the rules.” The official club statement after Thursday’s decision was that Lens were “financially and technically” happy with the agreement. This represents a significant change of heart. If, as is claimed, Lens now agree the contract was not valid why did they appeal in the first place? And why did FIFA impose the original ban?
A transfer ban is a very effective way of punishing wealthy clubs which can easily cover the cost of fines. Chelsea were previously fined £300,000 for illegally ‘tapping up’ Ashley Cole in 2005, but the fine made little significant impact on billionaire owner Roman Abramovich. This transfer ban potentially represented a precedent for football’s governing bodies standing up to the abuses of the rules by wealthy clubs. The dropping of the case with no explanation of why Lens and FIFA initially felt it was valid is worrying. The £130,000 paid in compensation to Lens as “an act of good faith”, according to Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck, suggests that money has definitely talked. If this is the case then it is disturbing for the poorer clubs, and will surely have greater consequences for the game than the break down of John Terry and Wayne Bridge’s friendship.