Chelsea fans knew it would be a bit of a comedown from the ownership of Roman Abramovich — though from dubious-at-best roots he did turn Chelsea from basically an also-ran to a world power beyond all of their dreams — to whoever came next. American ownership of Premier League teams has always been viewed suspiciously, rightly so, and no one has to look much further than the failed Super League fiasco that was spearheaded in part by American owners of Liverpool, Man United, and Arsenal. The stewardships of United and Arsenal haven’t put much of a shine on American owners either.
Todd Boehly’s first few weeks as the owner of Chelsea won’t do much either.
It wasn’t a huge shock to see a bunch of turnover in the Chelsea boardroom and front office when Boehly took over. Marina Granovskaia is essentially the architect of the current team, though she was always linked to Abramovich, and thus likely to leave once the club was sold. But the fact that Boehly decided to run things himself in the interim, and how he’s running things, is certainly curious. Did he not plan for this?
It got off to a wonky start when Boehly thought he could revolutionize roster construction in soccer with trades. Except trades aren’t something that happen in soccer. You can count on one hand the amount of player swaps we’ve seen in the past decade, mostly because players actually can tell a team to fuck off. They don’t have to go if they don’t want to (novel concept in American sports, I know). You can send them to train on their own, you can never play them, you can slag them off in the press, but if they want to stay, they can stay. Did Boehly not know this? Did he think he could work around this? Either way it didn’t show the tightest grip on how player transactions work in soccer, which makes it only more strange that Boehly thinks he can run Chelsea’s front office, even on an interim basis. Or does he not have the money? Rumors had it that those types of negotiations have hampered Chelsea’s attempt to pry Matthijs de Ligt loose from Juve, as Chelsea were offering Christian Pulisic or Timo Werner as part of the return, instead of the straight cash Juve wants.
Chelsea were able to get Romelu Lukaku’s wages off the bill for this season, but only on loan back to Inter, which isn’t the strongest ROI for their $110 million outlay last year. Raheem Sterling is still yet to arrive, though it’s seemed imminent for weeks, which is a plus. Chelsea are waiting on Raphina, who is waiting on Barcelona to hold up several banks to be able to afford the price that Chelsea have already agreed to pay Leeds for him.
But Chelsea still lack central defenders, having lost both Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen on free transfers this summer. Right now, they have 38-year-old Thiago Silva (39 in September), Harvey the Rabbit, and a ghost runner in the middle of the backline. Sterling doesn’t play defense, which makes it odd that he was the first priority for either manager Thomas Tuchel or Boehly or both.
And now the Christiano Ronaldo rumors have started. He’s bellyaching his way out of Manchester, partly because they suck ass and partly because it’s been whispered that Chelsea will give him a route to keep playing Champions League soccer. Ronaldo certainly means goals, and Chelsea have lacked a dead-eyed forward to finish off the chances they create and that Lukaku was supposed to be. Ronaldo barely moves, and blows up a wage bill, and probably is an unrepentant asshole, but he does score. But he also doesn’t press, and both Juve’s and United’s midfield certainly creaked and bent under the weight of teams being able to bypass their forward lines so easily as Ronaldo just looked on. Maybe Tuchel or Boehly thinks they can make up for all of Ronaldo’s (on-field) shortcomings with far better organization and energy than United ever came close to producing, but that’s a huge gamble. But Tuchel’s teams press. They were fourth last season in passes per defensive actions, meaning they don’t give teams time. How do you do that with an obelisk in the first line of defense? They won the Champions League with Kai Havertz as a false nine, dropping into midfield and linking to the midfield and wide attackers, and that’s when they looked best last year. If Tuchel wants that plus 20 goals, Ronaldo isn’t going to do the former, Havertz isn’t really the latter, and they need a different answer.
And Chelsea’s midfield is still on the old and slow side, with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho among the first choices. They’re certainly not prepped for teams waltzing right by Ronaldo with the ball and having easy avenues to pass and dribble at and around them.
So is there a plan here? Or is Boehly just chasing the biggest names he can get? The Dodgers can do that, because baseball is essentially an individual sport. You can drop Mookie Betts or Freddie Freeman or Max Scherzer or Trea Turner into the lineup whenever and it’s not like it’s going to shake too much up. You’re just upgrading a spot. Soccer is not that, and an addition of Ronaldo or not being able to add Raphina and losing out on other players while you wait has ripples.
There’s still a month before the season starts, and another month after that before the transfer window closes. Boehly has time, but so far he hasn’t exactly done much to sway anyone from thinking he’s convinced of his own genius simply because of his bank account.