You have to hand it to Chelsea FC’s new-ish owner Todd Boehly. If you’re replacing Roman Abramovich as owner, and ushering in a new era after the club’s trophy-laden one that the Russian Oligarch oversaw, you can win over the fans by going on a spending binge that would even make Abramovich raise one of his very expressive eyebrows. It at least shows an understanding of what Chelsea fans have become accustomed to.
Why Chelsea spent $400+ million
Chelsea spent over $400 million in just the January transfer window. Chelsea alone spent more this past month than the entire leagues of Spain, Germany, Italy, and France. The headliners are Enzo Fernández, Mykhaylo Mudryk, Benoît Badiashile, and João Félix on loan. There were a handful of other squad players brought in, and again it’s worth repeating, for the neighborhood of $400 million. In one month.
So the question is why? Generally, January spending is restricted to filling one hole, or desperately clawing at some bargains you can find, because clubs are loath to give up anyone useful in the middle of their season. But when Boehly shows up with checks of this size, clubs can clearly come to terms with the loss.
But Chelsea are trying to get ahead of the curve, first and foremost. Thanks to their summer spending, and, more to the point, the way they’ve structured contracts for their new players, UEFA is changing the rules to Financial Fair Play. Currently, transfer fees paid out could be spread over the length of a player’s contract for accounting purposes. That’s why Chelsea have been signing their new players to seven- and eight-year deals, very long for the soccer world. That’s what Enzo Fernandez got, so his $130 million fee over the eight-year deal he just signed works out to just $16.2 million on the books every year. Thanks to that, Chelsea’s road to looking profitable and financially stable is that much easier.
You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t this what Juventus just got a timeout for?” Kinda sorta. But Juve were using it in player exchanges and inflating those prices to make it appear they’re in the black. Chelsea, as of now, are just charging through a loophole like they’re driving the War Rig. And these players they are buying are worth the prices they’re paying, and they’re not exchanging other players in return. Mudryk was one of the most sought-after wingers in Europe. Fernandez just won the Young Player Of the World Cup.
However, come next season, UEFA is putting a five-year cap on what a transfer fee can be spread out over. So, if Chelsea had waited until the summer to pay the GDP of Alabama for Fernandez, the same fee would suddenly show up as $26 million every year. So you can see why Boehly wanted to get this over the line now.
What does it mean for Chelsea on the pitch?
What does it mean on the field? It’s been clear that Chelsea have needed a makeover in midfield for a while. Jorginho got old, which didn’t help a player who was already pretty slow when he was young. N’Golo Kante is unlikely to be able to get on the field enough, and his all-action, Tasmanian Devil pinging all over the field is going to be harder to pull off when he is healthy into his 30s. Mateo Kovačić has looked a little sluggish through all of it, though one suspects he could hold on with some younger, more springy teammates around him.
Does Fernandez do that by himself? It’s not as clear as the fee would suggest. While he looked great in the World Cup, buying players off of performances in an international tournament is usually fraught. Remember when everyone had to have Renato Sanches after Euro 2018? It’s just a weird combination of teammates, tactics, and opponents that doesn’t look much like soldiering through a league season over nine months. Additionally, Fernandez only has 17 appearances in the Portuguese league with Benfica. He’s been part of a team that simply dusted Juventus in the Champions League, as well as held PSG to two draws. There is no ceiling on him, but we also aren’t totally sure of the floor either. Chelsea are betting big, humongous big, on potential only.
Mudryk certainly provides an injection of pace and directness, and Felix has been untapped potential long enough to wonder if it’s still there, but Chelsea were already lousy with wide attackers. Wide attackers who can’t stay healthy (Hi Christian!) or interested (Hi Hakim!). Clearly, Chelsea are going to be reshaping their forward line.
But none of their purchases is a central striker. Kai Havertz has proven it’s not him, as well as not defining what position he should play either. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has looked every bit like the player that Barcelona didn’t want anymore. Graham Potter’s Brighton sides were famous for all their play up until the pivotal moment and the cavalcade of clowns they had at striker attempting and failing to finish them off. So far, he looks like he’s trying to replicate that at Stamford Bridge.
Badiashile looks like he is making up for the purchase of Kalidou Koulibaly last summer, who hasn’t looked up to the Premier League at 31 (and Napoli haven’t exactly missed him). They got some insurance behind Reece James in Malo Gusto.
But the question has to be are Chelsea buffeted against missing out on the Champions League? They’re currently 10th in the table, 10 points behind fourth-place Manchester United. That’s a lot to climb over. Can they win this year’s CL to get into next year’s? Ehhhhh. The usual favorites look a little more vulnerable than normal. Munich can’t stop drawing. Real Madrid are behind Barcelona. Man City are a different beast, built around an unholy beast, but just loaned out perhaps their second-best player the past few years. Liverpool are…well, y’know. PSG are PSG.
But is Graham Potter, in his first season in the competition, going to lead a team that’s been thrown together over the past couple of weeks to ol’ Big Ears? Tall timber there, friendo. Does Boehly have the gas to maintain all this without Champions League income? It’s likely we’ll find out. Maybe all the frantic activity was aimed at not finding out.
You certainly can’t accuse him of lack of effort.