FC Basel's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring against Chelsea's during their Champions League Group E soccer match at St. Jakob-Park in Basel

With Chelsea set to add another player (and Liverpool transfer target) in Basel’s Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah, the Ajax and Dutch football dude Mohamed Moallim Tweeted this helpful Wiki screen shot (ht to our very own Gianluca Nesci):

And then it was followed up by this helpful update:

So what’s the deal here?

I already hinted at it this morning, but someone summed it up well in an email exchange with me yesterday. Chelsea is essentially collecting a not inconsiderable group players, many of whom are ending up out on loan, in some cases to particular clubs like Vitesse and Middlesbrough.

Why? While it’s not immediately obvious, the most plausible explanation involves Chelsea acting as a kind of economic third party, letting various prospects increase values with teams not integral for the club’s ambitions and then reaping the potential rewards in order to help meet Financial Fair Play provisions, which require the club to break even (not spend more than they earn, with some important caveats which you can read about elsewhere).

Chelsea in fact have been up front about it. A week ago, Goal! writer Liam Twomey made his own case for the strategy, quoting Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo:

“We are trying to find a way because, given Financial Fair Play stipulations, we need to recruit young and we also need to have a reservoir of talent that we develop,” Emenalo admitted to the club’s official website in a rare interview last September. “This season is a good test for what we’ve implemented with young players given the stipulations of Financial Fair Play, but even regardless of the Financial Fair Play regulations, we think this is the best way to go.”

FFP or no FFP, it is a business model which makes sense. If just one of their 26 loanees reaches a world-class standard – and of the current crop Chelsea arguably boast two such prospects in Lukaku and Courtois – the club will save millions in transfer outlay. If the rest, having rarely burdened their parent club with training or wage costs, can then be sold for significantly more than their purchase price, the Blues can realistically hope to avoid ever replicating the £49.4m annual loss they posted last month.

Twomey goes on to describe the murky personal relationship between Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Vitesse owner Alexander Chigirinsky, and other signs of collusion between the two teams which takes away any incentive for player development from the Dutch side whilst giving them a cheap advantage in the league. Similar questions have been raised over Chelsea’s relationship with Middlesbrough.

The ability of Chelsea to essentially speculate on players is both a sign of the problem super wealthy teams can pose to European football as a whole, and a reminder that clubs can and will do anything to skirt break-even provisions if it threatens their dominance. It seems to me there are any number of ways it might be addressed, perhaps by capping the number of players a team can loan (though Italy would be borked). As ever, collusion may not always have the future of some of the world’s most promising talent at heart. But you knew that already…