Roman Abramovich may be gone but Chelsea’s spending has shown no signs of abating
If Chelsea supporters were fearful that the post-Abramovich era might lead to a slowdown of spending at Stamford Bridge, those concerns have been well and truly allayed after a record-breaking sequence of wheeling and dealing in the summer transfer market.
US-based businessman Todd Boehly fronted a consortium which ended Roman Abramovich’s 19-year tenure at the London giants in May; a sale which went through amid a haze of sanctions placed upon the Russian billionaire in the wake of the ongoing military campaign in Ukraine.
The changing of the guard in West London brought with it numerous concerns. Would Chelsea be able to compete at the highest level shorn of Abramovich’s seemingly bottomless wallet? Would the club collapse under its own weight given the range of sanctions with which they were hit?
There were even concerns about the club’s status as a viable business as various deadlines ticked closer in the final days of the sale.
But once the deal was rubber-stamped, Boehly – who appointed himself as the club’s interim sporting director – wasted little time in flaunting his (and his consortium’s) considerable wealth.
Chelsea’s transfer frenzy was perhaps hastened by the sluggish start that Thomas Tuchel’s men have had so far this season after suffering dispiriting defeats against both Leeds and Southampton – a pair of losses which have already presented the German coach with an uphill struggle if he is to catch Pep Guardiola’s powerful Manchester City side.
That, coupled with the prospect of a revitalized Arsenal, Tottenham and maybe even Manchester United, has left little more margin for error after just five games of the 2022-23 season.
Chelsea’s spending has so far reflected the challenges they will face.
First came England international Raheem Sterling; a refugee from Manchester City who was marginalized by the arrival of goalscoring phenom Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. He was followed by longtime Chelsea target Senegalese skipper Kalidou Koulibaly, the man tasked with injecting the power and pace left wanting by the departure of Antonio Rudiger to Real Madrid.
The moves kept coming.
Marc Cucurella was next, the Brighton player of the year whose footballing apprenticeship was undertaken at Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy.
He was joined by the prodigiously talented young French defender Wesley Fofana, who at around £70 million (€80 million) was Chelsea’s biggest financial outlay of the summer.
In addition to a handful of youngsters, perhaps the most prominent of whom is England underage star Carney Chukwuemeka from Aston Villa, Chelsea signed off on their summer business late on Thursday when they finalized the captures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona and Swiss midfielder Denis Zakaria, who joins Chelsea on a season-long loan from Juventus.
The combined price tag for Boehly’s first foray into a summer transfer window? Estimated to be a record-breaking £271.1 million (€313 million) – the highest ever total spend by a single club in the history of the Premier League.
“You can discuss endlessly if we overspend, or if it’s too much money for the players but the players that we got are very, very good players and very good personalities,” said Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel on Friday after his side’s lavish spending.
🗣 "You can discuss endlessly if we over spent or too much money for the players, but the players we got are very, very good players."
Thomas Tuchel on Chelsea's transfer spending this summer which totalled the most in the Premier League [£278.4m] pic.twitter.com/eYFPlfjw5v
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 2, 2022
“Everything was needed, desperately needed to rebuild the group and inspire the group. I think we did excellent, excellent signings. It does not help if we talk about the price too much… You will always find people who say this is way too much money.
“OK, but this is how the market was for us. Maybe we were not in perfect position to find always the right timing and the right price for what we did, but this was nobody’s fault – it was given to the situation.
“The players we got fit perfectly and I’m very happy to work with this group now.”
As defiant as Tuchel is, Chelsea’s summer business has had its critics.
“Your man Todd Woodward needs to stop wandering round like a kid in a sweet shop,” said football pundit Gary Neville in a social media message to Chelsea legend John Terry, referencing Manchester United’s oft-criticized former chief executive Ed Woodward.
“It’s just scattergun and unsustainable. I doubt this approach will go well.”
Neville’s words, though, arguably represent the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ philosophy which has infused Chelsea’s summer spending strategy – exactly the thing which Tuchel’s comments alluded to.
Early in the window there were accusations in some quarters that Chelsea weren’t doing enough to bridge the gap between them and Premier League powerhouses Liverpool and Manchester City – but today, the morning after the window closed, Chelsea are being accused of overdoing it.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Blues were accused of ‘buying the league’ under Abramovich’s watch.
If that accusation gets repeated in the early days of Boehly’s tenure at the Premier League giants, one suspects that Chelsea fans won’t be overly-concerned about the price-tags as long as more silverware sits glistening in their trophy cabinet.