LONDON — Soccer fans can be brutal when they want to be. As Chelsea headed towards a 0-0 draw against local rivals Fulham on a night that saw £106.8m signing Enzo Fernández make his debut as the most expensive transfer in Premier League history League and £88m player Mykhailo Mudryk lasted just 45 minutes of his first home game, Fulham supporters began chanting ‘What a waste of money!’ from the visitor’s section at Stamford Bridge.
The problem with Chelsea today is that the chant could have been directed at any number of manager Graham Potter’s players, such has been the incredible recruitment drive at the club in recent months. Fernández, who was impressive in his defensive midfielder role three days after completing his record-breaking move from Benfica, pushed Chelsea’s transfer spending since the end of last season past the £600m barrier when he sealed his move to London team.
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– Marcotti: Trying to make sense of Chelsea’s transfer spree
Manchester United sit a distant second in this season’s Premier League spending table, having invested £227m in new players. Chelsea’s spending in January alone came to £323m, more than the combined outlay of Serie A, LaLiga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 clubs during the winter transfer window. But what did Chelsea end up with at the end of their supermarket sweep of Europe’s most talented players?
Fernández, a World Cup winner with Argentina in Qatar, looked like a class act and a good investment during his first match. There were no indications that the 22-year-old would be overwhelmed by the distinction of succeeding Manchester City’s £100m winger Jack Grealish as the most expensive player in the Premier League. But having joined Benfica from River Plate for just £10.7m last summer (this was just Fernández’s 30th game in European football), it’s a valid question whether Chelsea have taken too much of a risk. with his new signing, as well as others.
Mudryk, who made a thrilling cameo appearance during a change on his Liverpool debut last month, was less impressive against Fulham and was substituted at half time due to a bad cold. Chelsea outbid Arsenal to sign the Ukraine international from Shakhtar Donetsk and once again seem to have blown their rivals out of the water without regard to the inflated price tag.
Benoit Badiashile (£33.7m) and David Datro Fofana (£10m) also appeared against Fulham. Badiashile looked confident at the back and an imposing presence alongside Thiago Silva, while Fofana was unlucky not to win the game when his shot was cleared away by Fulham defender Tim Ream on 79 minutes.
But the uncomfortable reality for Chelsea and Potter is that a starting team that cost a grand total of £470m failed to win yet again. After 21 games, Chelsea sit ninth in the table, nine points behind fourth-place Manchester United in last place in the Champions League, having won just eight league games in the entire season. season. They have only scored 22 goals, a fraction of an average of just one per game.
“We feel like we have a very strong group of players,” Potter said after the game. “We have to achieve and become a very good team. That’s where the work is.”
“The new players are adjusting to a new country and a new league. It’s not easy and when the price is what it is, you ask questions, but that’s the nature of the business.”
So for all the spending, Chelsea aren’t delivering much. Summer signings Raheem Sterling (£47m) and Marc Cucurella (£60m) have yet to suggest they are worth their transfer fees, while £75m defender Wesley Fofana has played only four games for the club due to injury problems. In less than a year since they took control of the club (a £4.25bn acquisition was completed last May), Chelsea’s new owners have already spent more than a quarter of the £2bn outlay on players that Roman Abramovich financed during his 19-year career. period in charge.
Chelsea’s spending has been so extravagant, so limitless, that it has led to reports that FIFA and UEFA are planning to implement new regulations preventing clubs from circumventing Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules by spreading the cost of a player over the course of an unusually long contract. In football, it is the norm for players to sign four- or five-year contracts, with their transfer fee divided by the length of that contract on the club’s balance sheet. So, in theory, a £100m player on a five-year deal would cost £20m in the annual accounts over the life of his deal.
Fernández, however, signed an eight-and-a-half-year contract upon completing his transfer from Benfica, so the write-off will see him valued at £12.5m in Chelsea’s accounts. By trading Jorginho to Arsenal for £12m on transfer deadline day, Chelsea all but wiped out the first year of Fernandez’s value on their balance sheet for this financial year.
The club hasn’t broken any rules, just exploited a loophole that allows such accounting measures to be applied, but that particular drawbridge is likely to be lifted by the gambling authorities sooner rather than later. However, Chelsea have caused their rivals to raise eyebrows as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola commented on the Stamford Bridge spending spree on Friday.
“I don’t say anything without my lawyer! No, I’m kidding,” Klopp said, when asked about Chelsea’s transfer outlay. “I don’t understand this part of the business, like what you can do and what you can’t do. They are all very good players, so from that point of view, congratulations.”
“I don’t understand how it’s possible, but obviously it’s not up to me to explain how it works.”
Klopp and Guardiola give their opinion on Chelsea’s spending
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola share their thoughts on Chelsea’s recent spending in the January transfer window.
Guardiola, who fielded the Premier League’s most expensive starting team last season when his City team against Tottenham in August 2021 cost a total of £553.32 million, said opponents had called for his club to be punished for breaching the FFP rules three years ago. A Premier League inquiry into the matter is now entering its fourth year without a resolution.
“What Chelsea decide to do is none of my business,” Guardiola said. “There are regulations and rules. I don’t forget, eight or nine teams sent a letter to the Premier League to ban us.” [in 2020, when City were found to be in breach of Financial Fair Play regulations].
“That happened to us when we are the fifth team in net spending in the last five years when we were winning titles. This is the reality”.
At City and at Chelsea under Abramovich, big spending ultimately produced big success. But each time, the recruiting was smart and strategic. So far, though, under their new owners, Chelsea’s transfer deals seem to be wacky and outlandish. Time will tell how smart and strategic they have been. And if Chelsea miss out on qualifying for the Champions League, the big question will be how they will be able to pay for everything and spend again if necessary.