Shaken by the panic caused by the increasing probability of not playing in the Champions League next season, the new owners of Chelsea have thrown themselves into a consumerist maelstrom unprecedented in the history of football. The signing of the Ukrainian Mykhailo Mudryk, last Sunday, raised the total amount invested in hiring players and coaches to 470 million euros, about to exceed the 493 million in income registered at the end of the 2020-21 financial year. Never has a club spent so much in the course that goes from the summer to the winter market. The account will continue to run for two more weeks. Sources close to the London society indicate that the voracious leader of the investment funds that make up the new property, the American banker Todd Boehly, has insisted on hiring Moisés Caicedo, from Brighton, before February.
“Our goal is to develop youngsters by giving them playing time,” Boehly proclaimed, by way of presentation, when in September he explained the main lines of a plan that, he said, was intended to replicate the model of the Red Bull company, which exchanges players between its two clubs, Leipzig and Salzburg. “To develop our players,” he continued, “the best way is to acquire another club [para cederlos] in a very competitive championship, perhaps somewhere in Europe”.
What Roman Abramovich’s successor did not explain was that what he most esteemed about the Red Bull complex was not his school but the economic growth that he evidenced thanks to his constant participation in the Champions League. For a club like Chelsea, which barely touches 40,000 subscribers and which, by social mass, is not even among the top five in England, the commercial income and television rights derived from the most important competition in Europe are equivalent to a life insurance. After disbursing 5,000 million euros in the purchase of the club, last summer, the only way to recover the investment is to reach the top four places in the league, door of the Champions League. A chimera, in view of the collapse suffered by the team, ranked tenth in the Premier.
“I sign because we stay as we are,” says a Chelsea veteran who usually works for the club and prefers to remain anonymous. His alarm is argued on the evidence. The teams that are at the top of the standings do not appear to be more fragile, and most of those that advance below —such as Emery’s Aston Villa or Lopetegui’s Wolves— are evolving positively. The context is unfavorable and the strategists are disoriented. Boehly, because he credits anyone who comes close to giving him advice, and Graham Potter, the coach, because he changes systems and players without repressing his bewilderment. He doesn’t perceive that the display of his doubts has a devastating effect on the squad.
Mudryk (70 million euros plus 30 million variables), Wesley Fofana (80), Cucurella (70), Sterling (55), Badiashile (40), Koulibaly (40), Chukwemeka (20), Santos (12), Datro Fofana (12) and Aubameyang (12), make up, according to the Transfermarkt portal, the most expensive transfer list in history. Surprising for the fans and frightening for the professionals at the service of the technical secretariat, who point out that the higher the inflation, the worse the quality of the reinforcements that arrive.
“We have to be patient,” says Roberto di Matteo, the coach who led Chelsea to their first Champions League, in 2012. “You have to give them time for the coach and the president to establish their authority.” Time, however, works viciously. Potter wears out day by day. The English technician cannot distinguish the useful from the one that he is not. Overwhelmed, he has allowed himself to be tempted by demagogy. Aware of pleasing the public and the owner, he promotes homegrown players like Lewis Hall to the first team, boys who were preparing to go on loan to a Second team and who suddenly find themselves in a crisis in the Premier. Witnesses to the entanglement are the players that Boehly has paid the price of gold, demoralized by the lack of a coherent direction and overwhelmed by the feeling that they no longer have a place in the project. If figures like Havertz, Jorginho or Pulisic, all of Abramovich’s men, already felt strange in the summer, now the feeling of uprooting extends to some of those signed by Boehly. Soccer players like Aubameyang or Koulibaly observe that Potter leaves them aside to put in the last ones to land.
40 million for Araujo
“If you sell Koulibaly, I’ll chain myself to a goal,” Luciano Spalletti, Napoli’s coach, told its president, Aurelio de Laurentis, when offers continued to arrive a year ago to sign the center-back who many experts consider the most qualified in the game. world to defend in rival field. De Laurentis, according to an agent involved, rejected offers of 90 million euros for the Senegalese, a model of balance and professional integrity. Spalletti only resigned himself to losing it when the player asked to be sold. But that emotional rock seems to crumble at times in the sports city of Cobham. This is how Chelsea employees see it: at 31, for the first time in his career, Koulibaly is seized with anxiety.
Potter is suspicious of everyone. Also from Koulibaly. He asks for more defenses and Boehly is not cut. Spurred on by the team’s lousy results, on January 5 he paid 40 million for Benoît Badiashile, a Monaco center-back with no outstanding features, and on the same date he sent an emissary with a proposal for Ronald Araujo, the Barcelona center-back. He offered him a transfer bonus of 40 million euros plus ten million net annual salary for five seasons. A lawyer who knows the operation points out that Araujo is legally authorized to negotiate and sign with whoever he wants, since the contract that Josep María Bartomeu made him ends in June and the renewal that Laporta promised him in April 2022 was never registered. The best defender in the League continues to earn what he earned in the quarry: 800,000 euros gross, according to the League.
Chelsea is the club that has spent the most money in the last decade —1,815 million euros, just above Barça, which adds 1,811, according to the International Center for Sports Studies. The number grows. It threatens to inflate further before the cherry blossoms. Todd Boehly’s fear costs millions.
Ranking of teams that signed the most in a season:
1. Chelsea 22/23 467 (includes manager Graham Potter and Raheem Sterling signing to Brighton)
2. Barcelona 17/18 380 (Dembele and Coutinho)
3. Real Madrid 19/20 356 (Hazard)
4. Manchester City 17/18 318 (Mahrez)
5. Barcelona 19/20 299 (Frenkie de Jong and Griezmann)
6. PSG 18/19 262 (Mbappé)
7. Chelsea 17/18 261 (Morata)
8. Juventus 18/19 260 (Cristiano)
9. Real Madrid 09/10 259 (Cristiano, Benzema and Kaka)
10. Athletic 19/20 247 (Joao Felix)
11. Chelsea 20/21 247 (Havertz and Werner)
12. Manchester United 22/23 240 (Casemiro and Antony)
13. PSG 17/18 238 (Neymar)
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook Y Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits