Chelsea F.C. has made many headlines since the beginning of this season – few of those were due to good football performance. A lot happened to Chelsea in 2022. The club parted ways with Roman Abramovitch, the Russian multi millionaire who headed the club for nearly two decades. Chelsea had great success behind Abramovitch, winning Premier Leagues, Champions Leagues, Europa Leagues, and other major trophies. Abramovitch elevated Chelsea to the status it is today: one of the preeminent clubs in England and the world. However, Abramovitch was forced to sell the club after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Todd Boehly, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sparks, and majority owner of the Lakers, bought the club at the end of May 2022. Though the season had already finished when Boehly arrived, the 2022 summer transfer window had opened. Fans saw Todd Boehly’s intriguing new strategy for Chelsea.
Many players left Chelsea during the transfer window last summer. Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, both central defenders with their contracts coming to an end, signed respectively to Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Marcos Alonso also left for Barcelona and Timo Werner returned to Leipzig. Also, on the last day of the January transfer window, vice-captain Jorginho signed for Arsenal. The most significant change, however, were the players that Boehly added to his squad.
Boehly inked very young players to lengthy contracts, a rather unprecedented team-building strategy. During the summer transfer window, Chelsea signed eight new players, including Marc Cucurella for six years and Wesley Fofana for seven years. Boehly signed a slew of players all 22 or younger during the January transfer window: he signed Mykhaylo Mudryk and Enzo Fernandez for eight and a half years, Benoît Badiashile and Malo Gusto for seven and a half years, and David Datro Fofana for six and a half years. Enzo Fernandez was signed in the last hours of the January transfer window for an English Premier League club record fee of 121 million euros.
Boehly inked very young players to lengthy contracts, a rather unprecedented team-building strategy.
Todd Boehly invested more than half a billion euros in the club during the last two transfer windows, a figure almost equivalent to what Liverpool spent in the past ten years. Since the summer, Chelsea has the worst transfer window balance of any club in the world. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the money invested in the club is not being followed by good performances. The club, usually battling for a place in the top four, is currently tenth in the Premier League and has already been eliminated from the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup. These investments do not seem to have fructified when looking at the current Premier League table. But Boehly’s designs are for the future.
Todd Boehly signed talents that are young and have great potential, a strategy which differs from Abramovitch, who bet on experienced and proven players. The ultimate success of Boehly’s strategy will be seen when these players reach their prime, a date that is still a few years down the road.
Chelsea’s unrestrained transfer window is bound to put them in discussions over Financial Fair Play, (FFP) a set of regulations that prevent clubs from spending more than what they earn. FFP restrictions were imposed to clubs by UEFA in 2009 to help an increasing number of clubs that were generating losses and not able to repay their debt. If the rules are not respected, clubs risk fines, withholding of prize money, player transfer bans, or even the disqualification from European competitions.
The lengthy contracts are a way for Boehly to escape Financial Fair Play. The transfer fees paid can be amortized over the length of the contract. Hence, the transfer fee divided by the length of the contract along with the salary of the player will be computed in the club’s costs for one year. This means the costs for Chelsea are dispersed over the length of the contract. Lengthy contracts have enabled Chelsea to spend aggressively on transfers while hopefully still being able to do business within the limits of the Financial Fair Play. Indeed, FFP is only evaluated a posteriori, so we will only know in a couple of years if Chelsea have respected the rules or not. Todd Boehly, a part owner of the Lakers, could also have been inspired by the NBA where lengthy contracts are the norm.
These investments do not seem to have fructified when looking at the current Premier League table. But Boehly’s designs are for the future.
These lengthy contracts are very risky; players can unfortunately not live up to their expectations, play poorly, and cause bad team performance. Underperformance from young players would harm Chelsea’s revenue and put the club in trouble with Financial Fair Play. A large factor determining the revenue that teams generate is their success in the Premier League, Champions League, and domestic cups. Furthermore, clubs generate revenue from jerseys and ticket sales contingent on the team’s performance. Chelsea’s risk to violate FFP increases if these players on longer contracts fail to fulfill their potential.
By contrast, an advantage of these lengthy contracts is the profit Chelsea could potentially make. Chelsea has never bought players with the idea of developing them and selling them at a later stage for a profit, in the vein of clubs like Monaco or Borussia Dortmund. However, they might be incentivized to do this if the market value of some of their recruits increases with time.
Manager Graham Potter will be able to play seven new recruits in the last 16 of the Champions League beginning later this month. Clubs are able to enroll an unlimited number of new players on “list B” only if they are born after January 1, 2001. This is the case for all of Chelsea’s new recruits, a fact Boehly surely considered when screening for new players. This is excellent news for Graham Potter, as he will be able to take advantage of the skills of these new talents in order to go as far as possible in the Champions League.
Boehly will also have to replace some of the players that are arriving at the end of their contracts this summer. Midfielders N’golo Kanté and Jorginho have played an important role at the club for many years but will reach the end of their contracts at the end of the year. Chelsea is not looking to extend their contracts. Thiago Silva is also coming to the end of his contract in June, and may see his contract extended an extra year. Nonetheless, the Brazilian defender is 38 and approaching the end of his career. Chelsea could also be selling players that they are unsatisfied with. Graham Potter does not seem to want Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in his plans. Likewise, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, and even Kai Havertz have not lived up to their expectations and might be leaving Chelsea this summer. Todd Boehly would not be against selling these players, as Christopher Nkunku is set to join the Blues during the summer, and Chelsea could even sign João Félix for a significantly high fee. João Félix is currently on loan at Chelsea until the end of the season and if the club deems he adds value to the team, they could be buying him permanently. This upcoming transfer window will represent another period of critical decision-making for Boehly.
Chelsea’s unrestrained transfer window is bound to put them in discussions over Financial Fair Play.
Todd Boehly might also be pursuing the idea of having a network of clubs across the globe, similar to the group City football, which owns Manchester City, Melbourne City, New York City, and others, or Redbull, which owns five football clubs, including two Champions League sides. This is an idea that Boehly developed in an interview. If he decided to execute the plan it would be well into the future, considering all of his current spending. This strategy would nevertheless allow Chelsea to loan their young players to other clubs in the network, usually in less competitive leagues, in order to develop them and then return to Chelsea prepared to play Premier League football. Chelsea has one of the best academies in the world but have consistently let excellent players slip through their fingers, like Kevin de Bruyne and Mohammed Salah. History has shown that Chelsea loses players like this because they do not provide the young players enough time to develop. Boehly also mentions that the club wants to be able to follow the development of the player, something out of their control if the player leaves to a new club.
The results have not been very good for Chelsea since the beginning of the season, in part due to the lack of time that Thomas Tuchel’s replacement Graham Potter was given. Potter has never managed a big club that, like Chelsea, have very high expectations placed upon them by the board and the fans. He has also dealt with a long list of injured players during the couple of months he has been the manager. Todd Boehly’s recruitment strategy is ambitious: never has a sum been invested in that little amount of time in club football. Only time will tell whether his plan to sign young, high-potential players to lengthy contracts will successfully avoid FFP regulations and yield success on the pitch for Chelsea.