According to reports, Arsenal was very close to signing Ukrainian superstar Mykhailo Mudryk during the January transfer window. As the current Premier League leader, the 22-year-old forward had the potential to be a game-changer in the race for the title.
Mudryk instead joined Arsenal’s crosstown rival, Chelsea.
Chelsea, now led by American businessman Todd Boehly, swooped in to sign Mudryk for a $75 million transfer fee, with an additional $35 million expected as a bonus payment, according to Mudryk’s former club, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Mudryk’s arrival, along with the deadline-day, British-record $132 million deal for Enzo Fernández, demonstrated Chelsea’s manic January transfer window, in which the club’s spending has topped $350 million, according to Transfermarkt, and in which eight players have arrived, including a slew of attackers.
In May, the UK government approved the sale of Chelsea to an ownership group led by Boehly in a $5 billion deal.
Chelsea was previously owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who put the club up for sale in early March in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, claiming it was “in the best interests of the Club.”
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK government added Abramovich to its list of sanctioned individuals in May as part of its efforts to “isolate” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Boehly has already fired coach Thomas Tuchel, who led Chelsea to its second Champions League title in 2020/21, and replaced him with Graham Potter.
In addition to Chelsea, Boehly has stakes in the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Sparks of the National Basketball Association.
Boehly is thought to have spent over $600 million on transfers since joining Chelsea. There hasn’t been a single day in January when Chelsea hasn’t been linked with a number of players.
“As someone who’s been covering it, I think the past month has been pretty exciting,” Dan Dormer of the ‘London Is Blue Podcast’ told CNN Sport.
“It’s also been a little draining because it feels like we’re waking up to a new link or a new story every day.”
Dealing and wheeling
While players have arrived, Chelsea’s results have been inconsistent – for the time being – as evidenced by fans lamenting the club’s past and singing, “We’ve got Super Tommy Tuchel,” during their team’s 4-0 FA Cup thrashing by Manchester City in early January.
However, Boehly’s investment in new talent has never wavered.
“We’re all in – 100% – every minute of every match. “Our vision as owners is simple: we want to make the fans proud,” said Boehly in a statement following the completion of his purchase of Chelsea.
“Our plan of action is to invest in the Club for the long term and build on Chelsea’s remarkable history of success, in addition to our commitment to developing the youth squad and acquiring the best talent.”
According to Transfermarkt, Boehly and Chelsea spent $302.08 million on new signings during his first full transfer window as the club’s interim sporting director last summer. Chelsea never reports how much it spends on transfers and declined to comment when CNN asked about the club’s recent spending on new players.
Boehly has gone out of his way to make the transition to life under Potter as easy as possible, enlisting the help of many of the former Brighton manager’s coaching and backroom staff.
Meanwhile, Christopher Vivell joined Chelsea as technical director in December after leaving RB Leipzig in Germany.
“He [Boehly] will provide important support to Graham and the ownership group and play a vital role in advancing our overall vision for the club,” Boehly said when Vivell was appointed, according to the club’s website.
Dormer claims that Chelsea has never properly replaced technical director Michael Emenalo, who left the club in 2017.
“If you think about it, over different managers, it’s like they were each a different kid and they requested a different Lego set, and they’re trying to build one unified project. “As a result, not all of the puzzle pieces fit together all of the time,” Dormer explained.
Because clubs don’t want to lose valuable assets and have the upper hand in negotiations, the January transfer window is often regarded as the worst time to buy players. That hasn’t stopped the Blues.
Along with Mudryk, permanent deals were signed for Benoît Badiashile, Noni Madueke, Malo Gusto, Andrey Santos, David Datro Fofana, and Fernández, while Portuguese superstar Joo Félix joined on loan from Atlético Madrid.
According to the CIES Football Observatory, Chelsea spent more than $600 million on 15 players this season before signing Fernández. The purchase of Fernández brings the club’s recent transfer spending to more than $600 million.
There is a long-term strategy at work here, with Chelsea targeting young players – 11 of the players signed for transfer fees are aged 22 or under.
Dormer claims that with older players coming to the end of their contracts and some looking past their prime, there was a clear need to “replenish” the squad. Jorginho, a veteran midfielder, was sold to table-topping Arsenal on the final day of the January transfer window.
“It’s almost like you went for your eye exam and the optometrist asked, ‘Better one or better two?’ and helped you hone in on what the 20/20 vision for your glasses is,” Dormer explained. “This has been an evolutionary process of trying to figure out who those best players are.”
Dormer believes Chelsea’s squad now has the necessary depth.
“If Reece James is injured, Chelsea’s right-hand side suffers significantly in terms of overall performance,” he explained.
“And so having similar levels of player to raise the floor on the individual behind your selected starter and then having the ability to rotate to keep the entirety of the team healthy, particularly as teams play 40, 50, 60 games or more a season – plus internationals, plus the lack of time off.”
This influx of talent, however, may cause problems for Chelsea.
According to UEFA rules, a club can only add three new players to its playing squad for the knockout stages of the Champions League, which means that four of Mudryk, Félix, Badiashile, Madueke, Fofana, and Fernández will be unable to compete for Chelsea.
Cash, cash, cash
This year, transfer spending has nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with Chelsea leading the way.
According to FIFA’s 2022 Global Transfer Market report, clubs spent a total of $6.5 billion in 2022, an increase of 33.5% from $4.86 billion in 2021 but still less than the levels of $6.94 billion in 2018 and $7.35 billion in 2019.
Chelsea alone has spent over $600 million on new players, raising concerns about football’s financial regulations.
Chelsea is navigating the Premier League’s and European football’s governing body, UEFA’s, financial fair play regulations through the process of amortisation, which involves giving players longer contracts to spread the cost of a transfer over a number of years.
In Mudryk’s case, the Ukrainian agreed to an eight-and-a-half-year contract with the Blues, which means his nearly $110 million transfer fee will cost the club about $13 million per year. According to the BBC, Fernandez also agreed to terms with Stamford Bridge on an eight-and-a-half-year contract.
Kieran Maguire, a financial football expert who calls Chelsea’s sudden transfer spending “strange” given the usual caution of Clearlake Capital, the investment fund involved in the takeover, explained that amortisation can be beneficial in the short term but has long-term consequences.
“It’s a high-risk strategy because what if those players end up being duds?” Maguire revealed to CNN Sport.
“You are then committed to paying the players’ wages over that six, seven, eight-year period.
“Chelsea’s wage commitments are typically in the top three, if not the top four, of Premier League clubs.
“Finding another club willing to take the player off Chelsea’s hands and pay them a level of remuneration that the player is happy with will be quite difficult.”
In January, UEFA announced changes to its Financial Fair Play rules, including a five-year limit on the length of time a transfer fee can be spread in order to curb the practise of excessive amortisation.
However, the change will take effect in the summer of 2023 and will not be retroactive, so Chelsea’s current spending spree will be unaffected.
Chelsea’s fruitful youth academy is also helping the club’s bottom line; in recent years, players such as Billy Gilmour, Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guéhi, and Tammy Abraham have all brought in large fees.
However, does such a large influx of players at Chelsea have any implications for the club’s young players?
“Having an academy system where the kids don’t get a chance to play at that level makes no sense,” former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis told Sky Sports.
The growing disparity between the wealth of top clubs and the financial struggles of others is also causing concern.
Fair Game, an organisation “committed to the same principles and determined to improve the governance of our national game for the wider interests of football,” reiterated its calls for Premier League clubs to implement a transfer levy, saying it could raise nearly $200 million, which “could help provide a vital life line to clubs below the top flight that continue to struggle with the fallout of the pandemic and the day-to-day challenges of the cost-of-living criterion.”
According to Maguire, there is a “arms race in terms of wages as a result of aggressive trading,” though he believes the Premier League is more competitive than other European leagues, citing Chelsea and Liverpool’s 10th vs. 9th-placed clash last month.
“Football is a talent industry, and talent follows money, and the big clubs have money,” Maguire explained.
“I think it’s just really a case of trying to get a degree of competitive balance so that you don’t end up as we see in La Liga and some of the other European leagues where it is effectively a procession and that’s not good. The Premier League is successful because it does everything correctly.”