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Chelsea’s scattergun spending is no guarantee of success

01 February 2023   |   5:03 pm
Chelsea's record-breaking last-minute swoop to sign Enzo Fernandez took the Blues' spending in the first year of the club's new ownership to a staggering figure of more than £500 million ($616 million).

A Chelsea logo is pictured on a sign (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Chelsea’s record-breaking last-minute swoop to sign Enzo Fernandez took the Blues’ spending in the first year of the club’s new ownership to a staggering figure of more than £500 million ($616 million).

The Premier League giants splashed out 121 million euros for the Argentina midfielder, breaking the previous British transfer record — Jack Grealish’s £100-million move to Manchester City.

Fernandez was Chelsea’s eighth signing of the January window, with the spending overseen by Todd Boehly’s consortium sending shockwaves around the football world.

Less than a year ago there were fears that Chelsea could run out of cash due to sanctions slapped on then owner Roman Abramovich following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Abramovich was described by the UK government as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

A special licence allowed the club to continue operating and despite an expedited sales process Chelsea fetched £2.5 billion — a record for a football club.

The consortium fronted by Boehly and private equity group Clearlake Capital promised a further £1.75 billion of investment in infrastructure and the playing squad.

But nobody saw spending in the transfer market that has obliterated the single-season record for any club across the globe.

– Scattergun strategy –
A lack of instant return on investment on the pitch and Boehly’s decision to name himself as the club’s interim sporting director has led to mockery of the American billionaire.

Chelsea sit 10th in the Premier League table, 10 points adrift of the top four places that secure a ticket for next season’s Champions League, and are already out of both domestic cup competitions.

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville described Boehly’s approach to the transfer market as similar to a fan playing the popular video game “Football Manager”.

Chelsea’s strategy does appear scattergun at best.

In the summer transfer window nearly £100 million was splashed on experienced players Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, all of whom have struggled to make a positive impact.

At the other end of the spectrum, more than £100 million has been spent on promising youngsters who have either been loaned out to other clubs or are unlikely to see many first-team minutes this season.

Back at the start of January, a £10-million loan fee to secure Joao Felix from Atletico Madrid for the rest of the season raised eyebrows, given how little Chelsea realistically have to play for in the coming months.

But any criticism that they are too focused on the short-term has been blown away, with around £200 million committed to signing two of the world’s most promising talents — World Cup winner Fernandez and Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk, whom the Blues snatched from under the noses of Arsenal.

In another break from the accepted norms of football, Fernandez and Mudryk have signed eight-and-a-half-year contracts.

Long-term deals are seen as a way around financial fair play (FFP) rules. In club accounts, transfer fees are amortised over the number of years of a contract.

Chelsea’s strategy has reportedly prompted the European governing body UEFA to take steps to close that loophole by imposing a maximum five-year limit on spreading the cost of transfer fees.

But the club also run the risk of being saddled with players they do not want into the next decade should any of their new arrivals turn out to be flops.

Manager Graham Potter’s job of turning results around may also not be helped by the failure to trim the fat of a bloated squad.

Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech was reportedly furious that his loan move to Paris Saint-Germain collapsed after the paperwork was not completed in time before Tuesday’s deadline.

Boehly promised fresh ideas as well as an investment when taking charge.

The co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team has certainly put his money where his mouth is, but that does not guarantee success in the cut-throat competition of the Premier League.

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