By Liam Twomey
For the best part of three months, the rest of the Premier League has been waiting for Chelsea to be confronted with some bad news. On the pitch, Jose Mourinho's men are top of the table, unbeaten and with no serious rival in sight. Off it, Thursday provided the most emphatic indication yet that the wait for their competitors could be a long one.
The announcement of Chelsea's annual financial results has rarely been a proud moment at Stamford Bridge during the Roman Abramovich era. Many of the releases over the past 10 years have followed a familiar pattern: heavy losses accompanied by vague reassertions of a "long-term plan" and seemingly far-fetched promises that one of English football's most consistently decadent clubs would one day become "self-sufficient".
But a profit of €23.2 million and record turnover of €402.9m for the year ending June 30 suggests that day may finally have arrived – a particularly timely revelation, given that the €62.2m loss absorbed in 2012-13 had sent the Premier League leaders walking onto a Financial Fair Play tightrope.
Such a scenario seemed inconceivable only four years ago, when Chelsea posted a €89.3m loss for a year that yielded a Premier League and FA Cup double, with a team spine declining in value as it advanced in age. In 2012, a modest €1.8m profit was only achieved with the aid of "one-off exceptional items" and prize money generated by a miraculous Champions League win.
This, however, feels like the real deal. The combination of a bumper new Premier League TV agreement, increased commercial revenue and a surplus from player transfers has tipped Chelsea well into the black and there is nothing to suggest that any of these three will prove short-term income streams.
That the Blues look poised to return to the top of English football while balancing the books is nothing short of remarkable, and must be credited to a unity of vision and purpose throughout the club's chain of command never before seen at Stamford Bridge in the Abramovich era.
Chelsea's wage bill, allowed to balloon dangerously in the Russian's early years, is now lower than that of Arsenal. Faded, high-earning stars like Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Fernando Torres are gone. Other veterans such as club captain John Terry and Didier Drogba remain, but on appropriately reduced terms. The new main men – Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas – are well paid, but none to the level of Manchester United's Angel Di Maria.
New signings are increasingly funded by sales, either of products of Chelsea's controversial but undeniably lucrative mass loan system or marketable first-teamers not compatible with Mourinho's philosophy, with maximum value always sought and often gained. It is amazing to think that the arrivals of Costa and Fabregas, two men currently bending the Premier League to their will, were completely offset by the departures of David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku.
The average age of Chelsea's starting XI in the Premier League this season is 26 years and 301 days – a matter of months older than Mourinho's Blues side of 2005-06 that romped to their second consecutive title and almost two whole years younger than that of listless and seemingly jaded champions Manchester City.
"If we keep this team, and [City] keep that team: in five years' time, who is going to be better?" Mourinho asked Gary Neville during an interview for the Telegraph last month. "I say immediately – us, because in five years I'm going to have Hazard, Oscar, Willian, [Cesar] Azpilicueta, [Kurt] Zouma, in the best moment of their careers, and the fantastic players I have now, at 28, 29. A fantastic team with lots of solutions."
The reunion of Abramovich and Mourinho always felt like a marriage of convenience, but few predicted just how convenient it could be. The Russian has scarcely looked happier in his corporate box as he watches a team of power and artistry dominate most opponents while averaging not far shy of three goals per game. His manager, meanwhile, seems to have discovered how to incorporate a greater sense of adventure and spectacle into his famed recipe for success.
Most startling of all, however, is the realisation that football’s wealthiest and most notorious short-term owner has teamed up in earnest with the sport’s most effective short-term manager to build a long-term dynasty.
The raw materials for the project are in plentiful supply. Beneath a youthful and dynamic first-team squad, Chelsea's much-maligned academy is now in the business of refining some of the most talented English youngsters of every age group, winning trophies on a yearly basis along the way. Sceptics will understandably require further convincing but Mourinho has publicly staked his reputation on the continued development of Lewis Baker, Dominic Solanke, Isaiah Brown and others.
On the business side, Stamford Bridge itself remains a considerable barrier to stratospheric growth. Chelsea simply cannot compete with the matchday income of Europe's elite clubs, despite making more of their corporate facilities than most.
Expanding the 42,000-seater venue is difficult. Finding a viable alternative site for a stadium in west London has so far proven impossible. No wonder, then, that chairman Bruce Buck tempered his jubilation at Chelsea’s profitable new dawn with a warning: "In the era of FFP, we must progress commercially to continue the circle of success to invest in the team and get results."
Prolonged Premier League supremacy is the most effective way for a club to become a commercial powerhouse – a roadmap all too familiar at Old Trafford – and with United and Liverpool rebuilding, Arsenal and Tottenham poorly managed and City in their constant state of flux, Chelsea are best placed. Abramovich and Mourinho will hope the trophies and cheques flow equally freely in the coming years.