oman Abramovich may be gone but Chelsea’s reputation as English football’s big spenders is, for the time being, here to stay.
Sunday’s implosion at Leeds has seemingly only strengthened the determination of the club’s new owners to continue their splurge in the transfer market, which could come to resemble Abramovich’s own first summer at Stamford Bridge in 2003.
The Blues are pursuing deals for Everton’s Anthony Gordon, Barcelona pair Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Leicester centre-half Wesley Fofana, which would take their summer spending way beyond £300million.
Committing to such vast sums will surely not be possible every summer and the expectation is that the Boehly-Clearlake consortium are aiming for a spree to boost Thomas Tuchel’s squad before levelling off their spending in future windows.
Signing four more players would be a statement to their rivals, and improve Tuchel’s options, but there are inherent dangers to such an aggressive approach in the market.
Chelsea can scarcely afford many more expensive mistakes after Abramovich’s last big deal, the £97.5m move for Romelu Lukaku, backfired and the sums being mentioned for Gordon, De Jong and Fofana are eye-watering.
Landing all their targets would also leave Tuchel with the huge undertaking of having to integrate up to 10 new signings, as well as returning loanees Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja, in a single summer, which could leave the squad facing a period of transition during the most relentless season on record.
Aubameyang, for example, has worked with Tuchel before at Borussia Dortmund but Arsenal went to great lengths to rid themselves of the Gabon forward, and there is a risk he could prove a disruptive influence in a squad already containing too many unsettled players.
The new ownership is also in danger of quickly establishing an unwanted reputation for generosity in the market. The deals for Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly — at £50m and £33m, respectively — look smart given their proven quality but the Blues have already overpaid for Marc Cucurella, who cost £63m from Brighton.
Gordon is not yet worth the £60m that Chelsea are willing to pay and there is little to suggest he would solve the lack of firepower in Tuchel’s forward line, while the 21-year-old is yet to be tested at wing-back, where the head coach believes he can operate.
The obvious question is whether he is really an upgrade, not least a £60m upgrade, on Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is set to be sent on loan to Bayer Leverkusen.
Fofana would also be overpriced if Chelsea agree to Leicester’s demands for a world-record deal for a defender, eclipsing the £80m Manchester United paid the Foxes for Harry Maguire.
The Frenchman would add much-needed energy to Tuchel’s ageing defence but, at 21, he is not the finished article. The fee being mentioned for De Jong is around the £70-80m mark, which would be another massive outlay, albeit on a fine player.
The Dutchman is perhaps the hardest target to attain, given Barcelona’s unpredictable situation, but the most essential to Tuchel’s rebuild. Chelsea sorely missed the injured N’Golo Kante in the defeat at Leeds and a succession plan for the Frenchman and Jorginho is increasingly a priority.
Chelsea are continuing to work on outgoings to help fund their spending, with Emerson Palmieri yesterday joining West Ham in a £15m deal, but the terms of Lukaku’s return to Inter Milan on loan were also generous and will only encourage clubs to try their luck with lowball offers for Chelsea’s unwanted players.
In this regard, an experienced director of football would help, with Boehly having done the job himself this summer.
Any fears that Chelsea would be unable to spend vast sums without an oligarch in the boardroom have been allayed for now and Tuchel will hope to be left with a squad capable of competing for the top prizes. Their big-spending summer is not without its risks, however, and there is a need for Chelsea to get it right before the purse strings are inevitably tightened.
Zaha’s striking improvement
Strange to say it, given his consistency for Crystal Palace over the years, but is Wilfried Zaha set for a breakthrough season of sorts?
Zaha has never bettered the 14 Premier League goals he scored last term but, under Patrick Vieira, the Ivorian is turning from a dangerous winger with an eye for goal into a lethal goalscorer.
Since the turn of the year, only Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have scored more in the League than Zaha’s 12 goals, and he has begun this season with three in as many games.
At the age of 29, Zaha is surely eyeing his first 20-plus goal season, particularly considering the Palace team around him is now much more benefitting of his quality, too.