Todd Boehly has spent over £300m on players since taking ownership of Chelsea – but what is the master plan behind the huge transfer spending?
Co-owner and chairman Boehly has overseen the acquisition of 14 players since he took charge ahead of the summer 2022 transfer window, with Atletico Madrid loanee Joao Felix the latest arrival.
Among those incomings, there have been five teenagers and three more players aged 20-22, with Chelsea signing up some of Europe’s top young talent, while also bringing in more experienced players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (age 33), Kalidou Koulibaly (31) and Raheem Sterling (28).
Their approach has been criticised in some quarters. Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher recently said Chelsea are further away from success than they were before the past two transfer windows, with Graham Potter’s side currently languishing in 10th place in the Premier League and out of both cup competitions.
So what is the master plan behind their big transfer outlay?
“They’ve got a twin-track policy,” explains Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol. “They go around the world buying up the best young players and they’re going to carry on doing that but they want to buy ready-made players as well.
“Since Roman Abramovich left the strategy has been open to criticism. I’m not criticising it myself but there’s plenty of people out there who criticise how they do business because it seems like any player that is offered, they’re having a look at.
“Some of the signings have worked out, some haven’t. Has Aubameyang worked out? Has Koulibaly? I’m not sure. It’s been a little bit hit and miss and a lot of people say it may have been a mistake to dismantle the structure Abramovich had in place, with (former director) Marina Granovskaia, (former technical and performance advisor) Petr Cech…
“A lot of key people have left the club very quickly and it’s going to take the new people time to get used to working at Chelsea and working with each other. There seems to be more people with a voice and different points of view. Add in a young, relatively inexperienced manager, and you can see why Chelsea are underperforming at the moment.”
Two of those new voices are Christopher Vivell, the former RB Leipzig technical director who was head of scouting at Red Bull Salzburg when they signed Erling Haaland, and former Brighton head of recruitment Paul Winstanley.
Boehly acted as interim sporting director at the club when he first took control but has this past week relinquished those duties to Vivell and Winstanley.
Potter also has a say in these decisions – but as head coach at Chelsea his focus is primarily on coaching rather than recruitment.
“Graham Potter is involved in the recruitment process but you’re really a head coach at Chelsea,” says Solhekol “With someone like Joao Felix, I very much doubt three months ago Potter sat down and said ‘Joao Felix is the player I want, go and get me Joao Felix’.
“It’s more [player agent] Jorge Mendes has been offering Felix to top clubs. Potter wasn’t the driving force behind getting Felix but of course he would have had some input – and because of Felix’s quality, Potter’s not going to say, ‘I don’t want him’.”
“Obviously their new recruitment people have targets they’re going for but it seems to be a little bit of Chelsea taking players they’re offered. They wanted Enzo Fernandez, the best young player at the World Cup, and Jorge Mendes was involved in that deal from Chelsea’s side. It didn’t work out and then a week later a Jorge Mendes client in Felix is signing for Chelsea.
“If you’re an agent, and Boehly comes along with a lot of money, of course you’re going to try to make connections with him. A lot of people now have his phone number – that wouldn’t have happened so much, if at all, under Abramovich.”
Is the strategy working?
Jamie Carragher and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink have questioned Chelsea’s spending so far under new owner Todd Boehly.
Before Chelsea agreed a deal for Andrey Santos, they had spent around £220m on seven players aged 24 and under – the latest being Monaco defender Benoit Badiashile for £35m.
“Players aged 23 or 24 are not that young,” Carragher told Sky Sports before Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat to Man City in the Premier League.
“Look at the top end [of the age group of Chelsea signings in the Todd Boehly era], there’s Raheem Sterling – who is a good signing but he hasn’t set the world alight, there’s Kalidou Koulibaly who is not a great signing and I don’t think Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a good signing.
“You’re talking about a club that has spent £300m on top of the team last season and we’re talking about them not bringing in winners or the right players.
“I totally disagree with the idea that Graham Potter is inheriting the problems that were there before.
“I thought Chelsea were in a great position. With Thomas Tuchel, they won the Champions League but they also got to every possible cup final he could possibly get to. They finished third behind the two best teams in the world – that’s fair to call Liverpool and Manchester City that.
“To go from where they were – and I remember them playing Liverpool in the two cup finals and they were very good – and to spend £300m and be further away [from Liverpool and City] is just baffling.”
Former Chelsea striker Hasselbaink added: “They want young, exciting and the best young players here and they’re looking for the future. But you also need players who can come in and make the team better straight away, who can wear and handle the shirt and win games.
“The mentality can’t change overnight as they have been spoiled for many years where they have won so many trophies and the fans will expect that still. To get that balance right, you need to have both. You can’t just have young players and wait for the future.
“You need players who have Premier League experience, players who have won medals. [Look at] what Arsenal have done with Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, what Manchester United have done with Casemiro. That’s what they need to do. You need that at Chelsea, two or three players.”
The Boehly buys – players signed from the start of the summer 2022 transfer window
SUMMER 2022 (including current ages)
Marc Cucurella – Brighton, £60m – age 24
While Man City baulked at the price, Chelsea were prepared to pay the record-equalling fee for a full-back to bring Cucurella from Brighton on a six-year deal. The Spain international – who worked with Potter on the South Coast – was signed to provide competition at left-back and left wing-back with Ben Chilwell, who has been struggling with injuries, although 18-year-old Lewis Hall has also been used in those positions.
Raheem Sterling – Man City, £47.5m – age 28
The first men’s signing of the Todd Boehly era, Sterling was described by Thomas Tuchel as Chelsea’s “number one priority” when he joined on a five-year contract with an option for a further 12 months. The four-time Premier League champion has managed to score just four times in 15 Premier League appearances this season, though, and was surprisingly used in a wing-back role by Potter prior to the World Cup break.
Eddie Beach – Southampton, undisclosed – age 19
Young goalkeeper Beach joined Chelsea in June and has gone into their development squad.
Kalidou Koulibaly – Napoli, £33m – age 31
A long-term target for many Premier League clubs, Koulibaly joined Chelsea on a four-year contract and was seen as a ready-made solution after centre-backs Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen both left the club on free transfers in the summer. He has been a first-choice for much of this season.
Omari Hutchinson – Arsenal, free – 19
Highly-rated attacking midfielder Hutchinson was a Chelsea youth player before spending seven years in Arsenal’s academy. He returned to west London in the summer and was handed his senior debut by Potter in January against Manchester City.
Carney Chukwuemeka – Aston Villa, £20m – age 19
Boehly described Chukwuemeka as “one of the most exciting young players in Europe” after snapping up the teenager from Aston Villa and handing him a six-year contract. The midfielder has made five appearances off the bench in the Premier League this season.
Cesare Casadei – Inter Milan, £16.8m – age 20
Casadei is one of Italy’s most highly-rated young players and was signed by Chelsea on a six-year contract, with a view to the midfielder initially playing in the U21 squad.
Wesley Fofana – Leicester, £75m – age 22
After a series of bids, Chelsea finally landed “one of Europe’s most exciting talents” – as Fofana was described by Boehly – with the Frenchman signing up to a seven-year contract but the start to his Blues career has been badly hit by knee injuries, limiting him to just two Premier League appearances for his new club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Barcelona, £10.3m – age 33
Aubameyang had left Arsenal on a free transfer in January 2022 but Chelsea brought him back to the Premier League from Barcelona on Deadline Day in hope he would be an instant solution up front. His former connection with Tuchel from their Borussia Dortmund days may have appealed but Aubameyang hasn’t been able to recapture his prolific form of the past, with one goal in his nine Premier League appearances. He was subbed off after being subbed on by Potter against Man City last week and unavailable for the FA Cup game three days later because of a back injury.
Denis Zakaria – Juventus, loan – age 26
Chelsea have an option to buy Zakaria at the end of his loan stint. The Swiss international had only joined the Italian side in January 2022 and made 11 Serie A appearances and was brought in after Chelsea saw a £43m bid for Ajax midfielder Edson Alvarez rejected in the final week of the summer transfer window. After featuring just twice before the World Cup, Zakaria has had more game time in recent weeks with Chelsea stretched by injuries in midfield.
Benoit Badiashile – Monaco, £35m – age 21
Chelsea continued to hand out the long contracts when the January window opened, with Badiashile joining on a seven-and-a-half-year deal. The France centre-back missed out on the World Cup but is expected to have a big future and watched on from the subs bench in the FA Cup tie at Man City on Sunday.
David Datro Fofana – Molde, undisclosed – age 20
Ivory Coast international Fofana signed a six-year contract with Chelsea, with an option to extend for a further year, after starring in Molde’s Norwegian title-winning campaign in 2022. He made his debut during the FA Cup defeat to Manchester City, coming on at half-time.
Andrey Santos – Vasco da Gama, undisclosed – age 18
Box-to-box midfielder Santos made 38 appearances in Brazil’s second tier with Vasco da Gama, where he became the club’s youngest goal-scorer and helped them return to the top flight. Could be loaned out before he gets his first-team chance at Chelsea.
Joao Felix – Atletico Madrid, loan – age 23
Chelsea’s January spending continued with the signing of Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix for a £9.69m loan fee which will keep him with the Blues until the end of the season. Felix – who seemingly has a difficult relationship with Atletico boss Diego Simeone – has five goals and three assists in all competitions this season and Chelsea are hopeful he can boost their lacklustre attacking output.