Chelsea have spent over $600m on players since being bought by American Todd Boehly’s group


Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly (R) chats with Chelsea manager Graham Potter (centre) in October. Boehly and his Chelsea ownership group have spent over $600m on player transfers since the summer. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Todd Boehly and his ownership group haven’t stopped spending since taking over Chelsea last May.

The Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner assembled a group to buy the London club for up to $5 billion after sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced Roman Abramovich to sell the team. After Boehly and his group became owners, Chelsea spent over $300m on players over the summer, the most of any team in the Premier League.

The steps were taken to boost Chelsea for a title challenge after finishing third in 2021-22 despite Abramovich’s financial position. Still, Chelsea currently sit 10th out of 20 teams in the PL. And that underperformance led to another round of spending in January.

The January transfer window is usually slower than the summer transfer window. Still, Chelsea essentially adjusted their summer spending in the first month of 2023 when they sealed a $130m deal for Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez on Tuesday.

The money Chelsea spent on the world champions was the most any British team had ever spent on a single player and has taken the team’s total spending to over $600m since it was acquired by Boehly’s group. Even factoring in the players the team has sold, Chelsea have spent more than half a billion dollars on transfers over the past eight months.

The moves are not without risk. Simply spending a lot of money on players is far from a foolproof strategy. And they’ve also taken on some creative bookkeeping. FIFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules were allegedly put in place to prevent teams from spending like Chelsea recently did. But Chelsea creatively structured their new player contracts to stay within FFP parameters. And even that is not a step without considerable risk.

Who Chelsea signed and why

Chelsea have been targeting a mix of established stars and up-and-coming players since May. It spent nearly $100m on Leicester City centre-back Wesley Fofana, 21, and about half that on Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, 31. It also spent over $70m on Brighton & Hove Albion full-back Marc Cucurella and $60m on Manchester City’s England winger Raheem Sterling, while 33-year-old Barcelona’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined for about $13m.

The steps were taken to bolster a defense that had relied far too heavily on 38-year-old Thiago Silva in 2021-22. But Fofana has not played since he was injured in a Champions League game on October 5 and Sterling has been out since January 5 with a knee injury after missing most of September.

They aren’t the only Chelsea stars to suffer serious injuries either. Midfielder N’Golo Kante has played just two PL games for the team and missed France’s place in the World Cup finals. Full-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James have each played in less than 10 of Chelsea’s 21 league games and are both currently sidelined. Koulibaly has featured in just 14 league games, while midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek is also currently injured and Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic has not played since January 15.

The American Christian Pulisic is also out due to a knee injury. Pulisic was injured in early January after a long season and may not be back until March or later.

The injury spate prompted Chelsea to make a concerted push to add younger talent to the squad in January. As well as striking a deal for 22-year-old Fernandez from Benfica before the transfer window closed, the Blues also signed 21-year-old Ukraine winger Mykhaylo Mudryk for over $75m and 21-year-old French defender Benoit Badiashile for over 75 million dollars and sealed 19-year-old French full-back Malo Gusto for over $30 million in the summer. Chelsea have also signed 23-year-old Portuguese striker João Félix on loan from Atletico Madrid for the remainder of the season.

Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez, who won the FIFA Young Player Award at the 2022 World Cup, signed a record $130 million deal with Chelsea on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

How Chelsea did all the shopping

The sales of players like Jorginho to Arsenal this week or Timo Werner and Emerson in the summer can’t come close to offsetting the money the team has spent. It is for this reason that Chelsea have turned to long contracts for the young players they have signed in order to comply with current financial regulations.

Both Mudryk and Fernandez were signed to 8½-year contracts that will last them past the age of 30. While these contracts lock them both during their prime playing years, they also allow Chelsea to recoup transfer fees over the life of the contracts. The annual accounting impact is reduced with an eight-year contract instead of a four-year contract. Although Chelsea’s total spend over the two transfer windows is still around $600m, not all $600m need to be reflected on his books at once to comply with the FFP.

But these contracts appear to be outliers and not a new standard. After Mudryk signed for Chelsea, UEFA reportedly said they would introduce a rule that would limit transfer payback to five years and prevent teams from doing what Chelsea did to Mudryk and Fernandez.

The contracts are also risky. If for some reason Mudryk and Fernandez don’t work at Chelsea, the length of the deals means the team won’t be able to easily leave them any time soon.

The team’s imminent dilemma

Chelsea’s transfer frenzy poses a dilemma for coach Graham Potter. The former Brighton & Hove Albion manager took over from the sacked Thomas Tuchel in September and admitted in a press conference on Thursday that any new players in the team will have some “awkward conversations” over the rest of the year while he tries find out his team sheets.

“It’s exciting and a test for me and the staff,” Potter said. “We have a lot of good players, we need healthy competition but sometimes there will be frustration, that’s how it is.

“There will be some awkward questions and conversation because only 11 can play and you can only have a certain number in your matchday squad. It’s about being honest, open and transparent and respecting the fact that people want to play.”

Potter doesn’t have much time to figure out his best 11 either, especially for Champions League games. Finishing in the top four at the end of the season to qualify for the 2023-24 Champions League is unlikely, if not impossible, given where Chelsea sit in the standings. Victory in this year’s Champions League is Chelsea’s best way to qualify. And the team’s round of 16 first leg against Borussia Dortmund is less than two weeks away.

Chelsea will certainly also have to change some players at the end of the season. Kante is out of contract in the summer and the team were close to bringing Hakim Ziyech to PSG before the deal went through this week. Silva’s contract also expires this summer, although he said he is in talks with the club over a new deal.

One of the odd players could be Pulisic. He was rumored to be a potential transfer or loan target for the likes of Manchester United in January but his knee injury has silenced those rumours. His contract expires in 2024 along with Mason Mount, Kovacic, Aubameyang and Callum Hudson-Odoi. It will be very surprising when all five of these players are back at Chelsea next season.

There is also the prospect of new financial regulations ahead of next season. The current FFP will be replaced with a system that caps the team’s annual expenses to a percentage of their annual earnings. The current system is based on a three-year period.

And Chelsea may have some work to do to comply with the new rules. The team famously operated at a loss under Abramovich, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on players in each transfer window is not a money-making strategy. But Boehly and his investors clearly think the team needed an immediate infusion of talent. And only time will tell if that injection of talent pays off, both on the field and on the bottom line.

Christian Pulisic’s time at Chelsea could be coming to an end. (Photo by Mick Walker – CameraSport via Getty Images)

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