Chelsea owners rose to transfer learning curve during chaotic record-breaking summer recruitment drive

·4-min read
Chelsea owners rose to transfer learning curve during chaotic record-breaking summer recruitment drive

Chelsea’s new owners had done their due diligence ahead of their £4.25billion takeover, but nothing could prepare them for the chaotic experience of the transfer window.

Leaning on little but their wealth and ability to conduct business in US sports, the Todd Boehly-Clearlake regime had to do everything for themselves.

That is because shortly after taking the keys from Roman Abramovich, both transfer chief Marina Granovskaia and technical director Petr Cech would step down over a disagreement about the club’s new direction.

Boehly appointed himself as interim sporting director and set about an almost 24/7 working pattern. A WhatsApp group was set up for the board, with manager Thomas Tuchel invited into it, and transfers being discussed as agents brought offers and news stories broke across Europe.

The big agents, like Jorge Mendes and Rafaela Pimenta, got face-to-face meetings, but Boehly and co-owner Behdad Eghbali ensured they met every player’s representative over a busy first 100 days in charge. They were spotted lunching with Barcelona’s directors in a bid to build relationships with clubs, not just agents. That extended to colleagues at the Premier League, as Boehly hosted an informal dinner after joining the elite club.

Todd Boehly poses with Wesley Fofana after Chelsea signed the French defender for £70m (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Todd Boehly poses with Wesley Fofana after Chelsea signed the French defender for £70m (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Those who met the new owners were disarmed by their openness and willingness to discuss ideas. It was at that meeting where Boehly collared Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow about signing Carney Chukwuemeka. A few days later, the 18-year-old became a Chelsea player in a £20m deal.

Still, they quickly had to adapt to football business and its international nature. That, along with the hysterical experience of ‘football Twitter’ was an eye-opener for the mainly US-led group.

In the melee, they rose to a steep learning curve and made 10 major signings for the men’s team, while empowering the academy and women’s team to spend big.

Raheem Sterling was Tuchel’s primary target — and he was secured for £47.5m from Manchester City. Kalidou Koulibaly soon followed, amid moves for several central defenders, including Matthijs de Ligt, Presnel Kimpembe, Nathan Ake and Jules Kounde. Ake and Kimpembe opted to stay, de Ligt went to Bayern Munich and Kounde joined Raphinha in rejecting Chelsea for Barcelona. In the owners’ defence, Tuchel was reluctant to sign Kounde, and that led to him going where he felt most wanted.

Chelsea sign Aubameyang

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During this chaotic period, Tuchel took on a more involved role than ever before on transfers, with Chelsea’s preferred sporting director, Michael Edwards, wanting a break from the sport, having helped lead Liverpool’s revival.

Of his new workload, Tuchel told Standard Sport on Chelsea’s pre-season US tour: “It’s not my favourite thing to do, and in the long run the focus has to be on coaching, because it is why I am here. But at the moment my help is needed and wanted and it is necessary that I step up and take responsibility.”

He would go on to say he felt like he needed a “cold shower” when targets were being discussed in the subsequent weeks, with Chelsea hijacking City’s approach for Marc Cucurella. They outbid City by £22m, bringing in the full-back for £62m.

They followed that up by signing Leicester’s Wesley Fofana for £70m and a host of youth players for more than £40m. In the final 48 hours, Chelsea completed protracted negotiations to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona for £12m plus Marcos Alonso, with midfielder Denis Zakaria joining on an initial loan after bids for Ajax and PSV midfielders Edson Alvarez and Ibrahim Sangare were rejected.

In the melee, Chelsea’s new owners rose to a steep learning curve and made 10 major signings

By the time the window shut, Chelsea had spent a world-record £273.5m. With Timo Werner, Billy Gilmour and Emerson Palmieri sold, and Romelu Lukaku loaned back to Inter Milan, the club did recoup some £58.9m, but that was well down from the £100m-plus they received last summer.

It highlights the naivety of some of their business, losing some players cheaply and overspending on others. Yet, they will feel they have backed Tuchel, shown the fans how ambitious they are and, crucially, that they have given this squad the best shot of achieving success as soon as possible.