With the summer transfer window now slammed shut, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the dealings of big-spenders Chelsea in the market.
Chelsea hit the headlines with their lavish and wild spending last season during Todd Boehly’s first term as the club’s new owner. And the trend continued this past summer, with their spending on deadline day taking their total splashed on new players in just over a year to more than £1 billion.
Despite the spendthrift policy employed by Chelsea, the club recorded their lowest-ever points tally last season, which saw the Blues finish in a worryingly low 12th place, some 45 points adrift of champions Manchester City and just ten points clear of the drop zone. The first piece of business, and perhaps the most vital one in the overarching context, the Blues did was bring in Mauricio Pochettino as the new first-team manager at Stamford Bridge.
After the huge influx of purchases last summer and in January 2023, the opposite happened at the start of the 2023 summer transfer window. Loads of senior stars and high-earners were sold by Chelsea as they looked to trim the wage bill and general squad size, partly for Financial Fair Play but also for sporting reasons. While exits were inevitable due to the sheer bloated nature of their squad, manager Pochettino insisted on working with a smaller squad.
They have brought around £450 million in player sales this summer, with Kai Havertz banking the club the most with his surprise £65 million move to fellow London rivals Arsenal. Mason Mount is next on the top sales list, with his highly controversial move to Manchester United earning the Blues a nice £55 million quid.
Lewis Hall and Mateo Kovacic have also made switches to fellow Premier League clubs in Newcastle United and Manchester City, respectively. Hall’s move to St. James’ Park is an initial loan move with an obligation to buy for around £28 million excluding add-ons, whereas Kovacic made the switch to the treble winners for £25 million.
Chelsea Summer signings.
What a transfer window it was for us 💙 pic.twitter.com/Wqp9chJd8t
— JayPee CFC 💙 (@Jay_Pee_JP) September 2, 2023
The burgeoning and unimaginably wealthy Saudi Pro League then came to Chelsea’s rescue, helping them offload significant deadwood that was occupying big wages. Kalidou Koulibaly (Al-Hilal), N’Golo Kante (Al-Ittihad), and Edouard Mendy (Al-Ahli) joined various Saudi clubs, lured by the petrodollars. On the other hand, Christian Pulisic (AC Milan), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (AC Milan), and Romelu Lukaku (AS Roma) have all joined clubs in Serie A to salvage their flailing careers and get regular playing time.
Interestingly enough, despite only arriving at the club this summer, fresh additions Andrey Santos and Angelo have already been loaned out, along with several academy prospects in need of first-team minutes for their development. A host of players have been released by the club to allow them to find new clubs, including forgotten man Tiemoue Bakayoko, striker Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, and full-back Baba Rahman.
It has not all been sales, as legions of players have come through the door at Chelsea. That included breaking the British transfer record for the second time in seven months to sign Moises Caicedo for a fee of up to £115 million.
Chelsea also spent big to bring the France international duo of attacker Christopher Nkunku and defender Axel Disasi, the latter of whom was signed owing to yet another injury setback to centre-back Wesley Fofana. But the Blues did not stop there, splashing the cash on a host of talented youngsters with not very much experience, such as Romeo Lavia, Nicolas Jackson, and even Cole Palmer from Manchester City. Robert Sanchez, meanwhile, swooped in to take the number one shirt after Kepa Arrizabalaga moved to Real Madrid on loan.
The list continues with Deivid Washington, Lesley Ugochukwu, Djordje Petrovic, Kendry Paez, Dujuan Richards, Angelo Gabriel, Alex Matos, and Diego Moreira making the London switch to the Pensioners. But those were relatively cheaper deals in comparison to the money spent on the above names.
Ins: Moises Caicedo (£115m), Romeo Lavia (£58m), Christopher Nkunku (£52m), Cole Palmer (£45m), Nicolas Jackson (£32m), Axel Disasi (£38m), Robert Sanchez (£25m), Deivid Washington (Undisclosed), Lesley Ugochukwu (Undisclosed), Djordje Petrovic (Undisclosed), Kendry Paez (Undisclosed), Dujuan Richards (Undisclosed), Angelo Gabriel (Undisclosed), Alex Matos (Undisclosed), Diego Moreira (Undisclosed), Ishe Samuels-Smith (Undisclosed).
Outs: Kai Havertz (£65m), Mason Mount (£55m), Christian Pulisic (£20m), Mateo Kovacic (£30m), Romelu Lukaku (Loan), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£15m), Callum Hudson-Odoi (£5m), Kalidou Kouilbay (Undisclosed), Edouard Mendy (Undisclosed), N’Golo Kante (Free), Cesar Azpilicueta (Free), Ethan Ampadu (£7m), Hakim Ziyech (Loan), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Loan), Lewis Hall (Loan with obligation for £28m).
Marquee Signing – Moises Caicedo
Moises Caicedo’s blockbuster move to Chelsea was perhaps the biggest transfer saga of the summer transfer window. And Todd Boehly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when it comes to Caicedo transfer battle, having trumped Liverpool’s successful bid in a breathless summer transfer battle.
Having offloaded N’Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, and Mateo Kovacic, Chelsea had a lack of bodies in the middle of the park at one stage. They were pushing hard to get a deal over the line for priority defensive midfield target Moises Caicedo from Brighton & Hove Albion but saw several bids for the Ecuadorian international turned down by the Seagulls early in the transfer window.
Out of the blue, Premier League rivals Liverpool looked to have won the race when they reached agreement on a record £110 million bid offer with Brighton for the 21-year-old midfielder. It was back then claimed that Caicedo would head up to Merseyside to finalise personal terms and complete his medical. But Chelsea refused to take no for an answer while the player’s preference was always a move to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea stormed back in with a £115 million proposal, which eclipsed the £107 million British record they splashed on Enzo Fernandez back in January, to seal the deal. Not only that, the Blues then hijacked Liverpool’s proposed move for Romeo Lavia in yet another astonishing piece of business. It was a bold statement and a clear signal of intent from the London giants.
Cesc Fabregas: "Enzo Fernandez has had some time to adapt, and Moises Caicedo is a top player. He is strong and with quality, having been coached by a top manager like Roberto De Zerbi. Maybe not this year, but from next year they will be ready to compete." #CFC
— Williams ©️ (@CFCNewsReport) August 29, 2023
Despite a wobbly start to his Chelsea career, Caicedo can prove to be an influential piece in the Mauricio Pochettino revolution. As a pure destroyer, the 21-year-old is among the very best in Europe, and Pochettino’s adventurous style of football means Chelsea desperately need somebody able to break up the play and sustain pressure on the opposition.
His destructive attributes and underrated ability as a ball carrier should be a perfect foil for playmaker Enzo Fernandez, allowing the Argentine to play higher up the pitch and have more time on the ball to dictate the play.
Value for Money Signing: Nicolas Jackson
Although value-for-money deals have been hard to find in Chelsea’s business since Todd Boehly’s arrival, given the Blues’ more often than not buy young talent on inflated deals, their £32 million investment to bring versatile attacker Nicolas Jackson Villarreal is somewhat of an outlier.
The Senegalese have looked impressive while leading the line for the Blues, bagging two goals and three assists during pre-season. Chelsea’s decision not to sign an established striker this summer was always a gamble. But in Jackson, they bought a very intriguing profile. A combination of quick feet, impressive dribbling skills, and an eye for goal made him a hot commodity in the summer transfer market.
Jackson has blistering pace, which he put to good use during a breakout campaign for Villarreal last season, where he made 16 goal contributions (12 goals, four assists). The Blues lacked incisive speed in forward areas last season when Raheem Sterling was out-of-form. So the arrival of striker Jackson provides them with a welcome new option.
You don't need to remind me what I said about Nicolas Jackson. I still believe he's going to be a huge player for Chelsea.
I know he has a lot to learn like any other young player but we are judging too quickly nowadays. Drogba's first season at Chelsea wasn't smooth either and… pic.twitter.com/n38W5PDdCY
— Vince™ (@Blue_Footy) September 4, 2023
Although he has found goal contributions harder to come by since the 2023/24 Premier League campaign kicked off, having managed just one goal against lowly Luton Town and wasted a whole host of chances in Chelsea’s eventual defeat to Nottingham Forest last weekend, there should be no doubts that the player will come good after he is given time to adapt to the Premier League.
Inevitable Departure: Mason Mount
It is fair to say that Chelsea fans had mixed feelings about their club’s decision to sell one of their brightest academy products to rival Manchester United for £55 million.
Mount, who scored 33 goals and provided 37 assists in 195 appearances for the Blues and played a pivotal role in their Champions League triumph under Thomas Tuchel, held a special place in the hearts of the Stamford Bridge faithful. In fact, many, including Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, viewed him as a future captain for the club.
Yet, Mount struggled with injuries last season and failed to make his mark, only managing three goals and six assists in 35 appearances, while the uncertainty over his future took a toll. His departure from his boyhood club became inevitable after talks over a new contract with Chelsea broke down.
The 24-year-old was set to be out of contract next year, and he made it clear he had no intention of signing an extension, which deteriorated his relationship with the club’s hierarchy for a long time.
The player later opened up about his controversial departure, hinting that he did not feel valued by the club. From Chelsea’s standpoint, losing a highly regarded academy talent like Mount, who could have brought them sizeable pure profit, for free upon the expiration of his contract was simply not an option after the vast spending undertaken in previous transfer windows.
Hence, the potential £60 million they will receive from Manchester United is good business for the Blues, as the overall cash recouped from Mount’s sale alongside other high-profile stars allowed them to pretty much secure all of their top targets later in the window.
The Big Miss: Have Chelsea missed out on significant sale(s)?
There were several players Chelsea failed to shift before the window slammed shut. That is despite Mauricio Pochettino’s complaints about dealing with a bloated squad and having offloaded 25 players this summer.
The Blues’ first-team squad remains jam-packed to the brim after three stars stayed put at Stamford Bridge on the deadline day. Conor Gallagher is sticking around for the season after Tottenham were priced out of a potential move following an initial £40 million offer.
Likewise, Trevoh Chalobah saw a loan move to Bayern Munich blocked before snubbing an offer from Nottingham Forest, with Spurs also said to have been keen on his services. Marc Cucurella was also left in limbo after Manchester United snubbed him to sign Sergio Reguilon instead.
Although academy graduate Gallagher remains a key piece in the Chelsea puzzle, featuring prominently in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans this season with starts in all four Premier League matches, most recently partnering with Caicedo in a 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest, it is clear as day that the Chelsea would have been better off selling the latter two, considering the surplus of talent in those departments.
Well, less than 15 months have passed since the Clearlake consortium, led by the American tycoon Boehly, took the reins of Chelsea Football Club. In that short span, a staggering 24 players have been recruited at an eye-watering cost of £1 billion. The world of football has never witnessed such a whirlwind of activity.
The strategy driving this transformation involves acquiring promising young talent for big money and mitigating operation costs significantly through long-term contracts. At Stamford Bridge, the buzzword is “amortisation,” a financial concept that allows them to allocate the transfer fees over the duration of players’ contracts.
If this intriguing plan to exploit the FFP loopholes pays off and Chelsea’s cadre of young talents becomes a dominant force in European football for the next decade, it will be considered a masterstroke. But for a club desperate to turn the corner on last season’s humiliation, their focus on youth comes with significant risk. Inexperience at the top level and a fresh side will mean it takes time to gel.
Long-term contracts mean if a player is underperforming, he will continue to occupy a spot on the bench and will further drain resources, both in terms of amortised fees and wages, with the only option left being to sell at a sizeable loss. Their academy cannot always bail them out of these situations, like this past window.
In Mauricio Pochettino, they have a coach with a very strong record of developing young players, and their focus on signing next-generation stars will now hand him the opportunity to build his team from scratch, given that most, if not all, of the fringe players, have been either sold or loaned out this summer.
The Chelsea hierarchy are hoping the Argentine can put all the pieces together and challenge for the top four this season. The tricky thing for him will be managing player expectations and keeping everyone happy, particularly with Chelsea not participating in European competitions to distribute playing time more evenly.
While Chelsea’s outlandish spending has garnered the most attention this summer, the West Londoners have also done an excellent job when it comes to selling players to balance their books by offloading players deemed surplus to requirements and making room for a sweeping overhaul. They also beat Liverpool to the signings of Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, two extremely talented young stars with immense potential, and with that in mind, we handed them a pretty decent 7/10 rating for their summer transfer market performance.