Big money, long contracts: will Chelsea’s plan to disrupt transfer market pay off? | Jacob Steinberg

The new owners have spent more than £500m on 16 signings but need to win games while building long-term strategy

The same question is posed every time a player joins: how on earth are Chelsea making this work? The spending is so dizzying it is no wonder that heads are spinning. Surely, the sceptics say, there will come a point when enough is enough; when Chelsea’s owners, who have spent more than £500m on 16 signings, feel the squeeze of financial fair play rules and are forced to exercise some restraint in the transfer market.

And yet, in the wake of Chelsea breaking the British transfer record by signing Enzo Fernández from Benfica for £106.8m late on deadline day, there is no sign the fun is about to stop. Speak to people who know the club and they will say that Roman Abramovich’s successors are hardly reaching down the back of the sofa for loose change. The money is there and, judging by how many eight-year deals Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital are handing out, so is the will to break from convention.

Boehly and Clearlake are embracing their role as unashamed disrupters. They have studied the FFP regulations and seen a chance to satisfy them by using the accounting practice of amortisation to spread the cost of transfer fees over long contracts. It allowed them to succeed with their pursuit of Fernández and suggestions that the project is destined to end in financial ruin is not a feeling transmitted from within the club.

That sense of confidence was underlined by the mood after Chelsea stole Mykhailo Mudryk away from Arsenal. There had barely been time to digest the decision to pay £8.8m for Atlético Madrid’s João Félix on a six-month loan. Chelsea also wanted Mudryk, who had seemed destined to join Arsenal from Shakhtar Donetsk, and the atmosphere was triumphant after the electrifying Ukraine winger joined in a deal worth £88.5m.

Since taking over Chelsea in May 2022, Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have spent more than £500m in fees on permanent signing. Here is how the spending breaks down – not including loan fees for Denis Zakaria (£3m) and João Félix (£9.7m for six months)


Raheem Sterling (July) £47.5m – contract until June 2027
Kalidou Koulibaly (July) £33m – June 2026
Gabriel Slonina (Aug) £8m – June 2028
Carney Chukwuemeka (Aug) £18m – June 2028
Marc Cucurella (Aug) £60m – June 2028
Cesare Casadei (Aug) £12.6m – June 2028
Wesley Fofana (Aug), £70m – June 2029
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Sep) £12m – June 2024


David Datro Fofana (Jan) £11m – June 2029
Benoît Badiashile (Jan) £33.5m – June 2030
Andrey Santos (Jan) £17.5m – June 2030
Mykhailo Mudryk (Jan) £88.5m – June 2031
Noni Madueke (Jan) £29m – June 2030
Malo Gusto (Jan) £31m – June 2030
Enzo Fernández (Jan) £107m – June 2031
Christopher Nkunku (June) £52.8m release clause, TBC

“We’re just getting started,” was the message from one figure close to the owners, who would soon part with £35m to buy the England Under-21 winger Noni Madueke from PSV Eindhoven and £31m for the 19-year-old French right-back Malo Gusto from Lyon.

The natural response is to ask where this ends. In administration? In world domination? Some wonder whether Chelsea’s hyperactive approach off the pitch will bring success. The owners spent more than £250m on signings of questionable quality last summer, then promptly sacked Thomas Tuchel. Now the club are 10th in the Premier League, out of both cups and in danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League, which would raise doubts over Graham Potter’s future.

Graham Potter rues a missed Chelsea chance at Liverpool
Chelsea’s lavish spending will bring new demands on the manager, Graham Potter. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

This poses problems for Chelsea’s head coach. It is nice to talk about trusting the process. Chelsea have a lot of injuries and have not seen Félix in action since the forward’s debut ended in a rash red card during last month’s 2-1 defeat at Fulham.

Yet any sympathy for Chelsea’s ill fortune is limited by the statistic showing that they spent more during January than all the clubs in the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A combined. This is not, as Potter recently claimed, the hardest job in football.

Where Potter does have a case is that he inherited an unbalanced squad. Rebuilding is part of the challenge for the ownership and there has been a noticeable shift since the summer. Boehly has stepped back from his role as interim sporting director and Chelsea spent much of the autumn building a recruitment team, who focused on the future during January.

The youth policy could leave them in a better financial position. The business has been frenetic but taken in isolation the deals are not flashy. There are high hopes for David Datro Fofana. The Brazilian teenager Andrey Santos is one for the future and Gusto, who has been loaned back to Lyon, is regarded as one of the best young full-backs in his position.

Coming soon. 🇦🇷🏆

— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 1, 2023

It could all prove smart business. Benoît Badiashile, a 21-year-old French centre-back, has caught the eye since joining from Monaco for £32.7m. Mudryk sparkled during his cameo against Liverpool. No wonder Arsenal were so annoyed to miss out on the Ukrainian. Yet they were not willing to compete with Chelsea, who were always quietly confident they would get their man. It was clear that money was no object for Chelsea.

There is pressure on the hierarchy from the stands. The fans were not happy about Tuchel’s sacking and are yet to be convinced by Potter. There was a frenzy around Fernández, whose release clause stood at €120m. The owners felt that was “silly money” but eventually hammered out a deal with Benfica. Chelsea believe Fernández will help them finish in the top four.

A new identity is taking shape. Chelsea sold Jorginho to Arsenal for £12m – as his book value was £5m this will go down in the accounts as profit – and will focus on shifting players in the summer. The squad remains ridiculous. As it stands Chelsea’s options at left wing include Raheem Sterling, Christian Pulisic, Mudryk and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is on loan at Bayer Leverkusen.

Their forwards are Aubameyang, the injured Armando Broja, Kai Havertz, with Christopher Nkunku poised to join in the summer and Romelu Lukaku potentially set to return from his loan at Internazionale. Their reserve left-back cost £62m. Jorginho’s departure leaves them with a mere seven central midfielders. Dodgy paperwork cost Hakim Ziyech a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

It is why Potter has cautioned against signing too many players. In private he knows this is a rebuild. Under Abramovich, Chelsea had a lot of duds sitting on expensive deals. These owners want to be ruthless. Signings are on more realistic wages.

That fits with the new strategy of putting young players on long contracts. The idea is that giving Mudryk, who earns about £100,000 a week, an eight-year deal will allow them to amortise his transfer fee. Chelsea want to keep spending. Another way to make the numbers work is through the sale of academy players, which would go down as pure profit, helping the accounts.

Chelsea signing Mykhailo Mudryk from under Arsenal’s noses was the most dramatic story of this transfer window.
Chelsea signing Mykhailo Mudryk from under Arsenal’s noses was the most dramatic story of this transfer window. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Chelsea, who have been placed on an FFP watchlist by Uefa, are trying to be creative. Under Premier League rules, clubs can lose £105m over a rolling three-year period. Uefa’s regulations state that clubs can only lose £53m over the same period.

The club think they have found a loophole. Uefa has responded: from this summer clubs will still be able to put players on longer deals but they will not be able to stretch the transfer fee beyond a five-year period.

Will that change Chelsea’s plans? There is a reason why clubs tend not to hand out seven-year deals. It may help the accounts, but what if the player disappoints? “It’s either genius or idiocy,” one figure says.

But Chelsea’s owners reject the idea they have no vision. People who have got to know them since last summer are quietly impressed. A caricature of Boehly as obsessed by celebrity and glamour has built up but Chelsea did not target Cristiano Ronaldo after his departure from Manchester United.

Chelsea wanted youth. Ronaldo was the past, Mudryk the future. Nonetheless Chelsea still have much to prove. Their critics will say that the drive for signings is a distraction from poor results. Chelsea have got the clicks, the social media engagement and people rushing to award them the greatest prize of all – winners of the transfer market – but do they have a team? On Friday they play Fulham at Stamford Bridge. They could do with a win.


Jacob Steinberg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chelsea’s plan impossible to understand after Todd Boehly’s transfer splurge | Barney Ronay
Blues chairman is wandering around football’s shark-infested casino halls with a sack of money asking how you play blackjack

Barney Ronay

04, Feb, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Premier League’s spending bubble offers only cheap thrills in winter of disconnect | Jonathan Liew
Like the City of London, the top flight is now an unregulated plaything with little relevance to the real world beyond it

Jonathan Liew

01, Feb, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
Manchester United weigh up loan move for Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic
Manchester United could attempt to bolster their attacking options by trying to sign Christian Pulisic on loan from Chelsea

Jacob Steinberg, Jamie Jackson and Fabrizio Romano

17, Aug, 2022 @12:29 PM

Article image
Chelsea’s Antonio Conte: Chinese Super League is a danger to all teams
Antonio Conte says the Chinese market represents ‘a danger’ to clubs across Europe’s elite leagues as Oscar looks set to leave Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG for a possible £60m

Dominic Fifield

16, Dec, 2016 @10:38 PM

Article image
Chelsea’s Mason Mount interested in reuniting with Tuchel at Bayern Munich
Mason Mount is interested in joining Bayern Munich and reuniting with Thomas Tuchel after the former Chelsea manager was appointed last week

Jacob Steinberg

30, Mar, 2023 @12:10 PM

Article image
Potter delighted with Chelsea’s signing of Mudryk but sounds warning to club
Graham Potter hailed the signing of Mykhaylo Mudryk but, after Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0, warned the club not to upset the balance of the squad

Jacob Steinberg at Stamford Bridge

15, Jan, 2023 @5:49 PM

Article image
Transfer news: West Ham drop Emerson interest, Willian trains with Fulham
West Ham have pulled out of a deal to sign Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri due to his wage demands

Jacob Steinberg

17, Aug, 2022 @4:04 PM

Article image
Transfer latest: Chelsea to step up Mudryk push, Southampton close to Orsic
Chelsea will step up attempts to hijack Arsenal’s bid for Mykhailo Mudryk by holding talks with Shakhtar Donetsk and are continuing to push for Enzo Fernández

Jacob Steinberg ,Ed Aarons and PA Media

03, Jan, 2023 @7:30 PM

Article image
Chelsea plan renewed push to sign Enzo Fernández from Benfica
Chelsea are planning a fresh move for Enzo Fernández after failing to agree a deal for the midfielder with Benfica earlier this month

Jacob Steinberg

23, Jan, 2023 @7:30 PM

Article image
Transfer latest: Chelsea close on Molde’s Fofana as Madrid land €60m Endrick
Chelsea are close to signing the striker David Datro Fofana from Molde and Real Madrid have sealed a deal for the 16-year-old Brazilian Endrick

Fabrizio Romano

15, Dec, 2022 @5:06 PM