Why People Are Wrong About Todd Boehly’s Chelsea
In May 2022, a consortium led by Todd Boehly was confirmed to have taken over Chelsea. This came following sanctions imposed on the club and owner Roman Abramovich following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which forced him to sell the club.
Boehly immediately looked to shake things up at Chelsea, which did not escape backlash and criticism. The departures of Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech proved unpopular and comments over a potential ‘North vs South’ all-star game were heavily criticised.
Most notably, the club’s outlay in the transfer market has seen the most disapproval. In the consortium’s first summer, around €250 million was spent on new signings with a further €318.5 million spent in January. Despite this, Chelsea could only muster a 12th-place finish in the Premier League.
Heading into the 2023/24 season, Chelsea pushed the boat out even further financially. £423.5 million was spent on bolstering the squad in an attempt to recover after a shambolic league campaign.
However, the agenda pushed by the American owner is nothing short of unfair. People often choose to ignore the context attached to many of his and the club’s actions with media-pushed concepts of him being ‘ignorant’ not helping the matter.
Here are all the reasons as to why people are wrong about Todd Boehly and Chelsea.
Who Actually Owns Chelsea?
It is no doubt that Todd Boehly has been the face of the new look Chelsea. However, what people do not seem to realise is that he is far from the man in complete control
He is also joined by Behdad Eghbali and Jose E. Feliciano, the co-founders of private equity firm Clearlake Capital. Clearlake Capital are the 14th largest private equity firm in the world, handling £58 billion worth of assets. The group grew close during Clearlake’s bid to buy debt manager CBAM which is owned by Boehly’s Eldridge Industries.
They are also joined by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter and Daniel Finkelstein. All in all, Clearlake funded more than half of the club’s purchase price and holds joint governance rights.
Despite being the public face of the club, the power and decision-making at the club does not just sit with Boehly. If anything, it is rumoured that he has a minority stake within the club with Eghbali being far more involved in decisions.
While this isn’t groundbreaking news, it is unfortunate that Boehly is solely singled out for the actions at the club.
Following the takeover, there was a large turnover of staff in key roles at the club. Bruce Buck stepped down from his role as chairman after 20 years and club director Marina Granovskaia also departed. Technical and performance advisor Petr Cech also felt it was the right time to leave the club.
As such, the new owners were left with a conundrum. With no ‘football people’ involved at the club, Boehly assumed the role of interim sporting director. This left him and Eghbali in charge of overseeing the summer transfer window which led to a lot of criticism.
The attempted involvement of then-manager Thomas Tuchel caused tension between himself and the ownership. The German manager wanted to have a primary focus on the coaching aspect and could not keep up with the demands for his omnipresence in transfer dealings. This resulted in his sacking just seven games into the season and six days after the window shut.
Despite criticism from the likes of Gary Neville over these departures, the owners were hardly at fault. Boehly wished for Cech to stay, but with board changes, the former Chelsea goalkeeper believed it to be the right time to depart.
Buck had become an increasingly unfavourable figure at the club following the Super League controversy so his exit was not seen as a loss for many.
Granovskaia is a figure closely associated with Abramovich. Following his sanctions and wide distaste towards him, many would have seen her continued tenure at the club as an extension of his power remaining. This was very much a lose-lose situation for the club, particularly with the media.
The departure of Granovskaia was mostly criticised for the loss of steady recruitment skills she provided the club. However, it is not hard to see that since 2017, recruitment had rapidly declined. Chelsea have not even been close to challenging in the league since winning it in 2016/17.
With the takeover being completed not long before the window opened, any new appointments would have seemed rushed. So, the club took their time in recruiting new directors, ultimately sacrificing the quality of the window to ensure the right profiles were hired.
Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart have since been appointed as directors. As such, the club’s transfer strategy has seemed far more clear with a vision of recruiting young talent to overhaul an ageing squad.
The “North Versus South” Comment
Just four months after the takeover, Boehly was a speaker at the New York Salt Conference. From his interview, many of his comments faced criticism.
The proposal that received the most backlash was that of a “North versus South All-star Premier League game”, which was immediately rejected by many.
From this, a general consensus was seemingly reached that he was attempting to “Americanise the sport” for his own monetary gain. There were also immediate concerns of fixture congestion with this already being an issue compounded by UEFA and FIFA.
However, this proposal was very much misunderstood. His idea was for the game to raise money to put towards the country’s football pyramid which would increase support for the EFL and lower leagues.
The current distribution of revenue is clearly insufficient with many issues of financial unsustainability across the pyramid. Recently, Southend United came close to liquidation under Ron Martin before being saved by Justin Rees.
Scunthorpe United were also at threat with David Hilton ceasing funding while under investigation for fraud. Luckily, they too have now been taken over.
Vast inequality has led to clubs taking financial risks to achieve promotion which is far from sustainable. In the 2020/21 season, there was a gap of £4 billion in combined Premier League revenue compared to the Championship.
Would something to support the integrity of football in the country really be such a bad idea?
It is no secret that the first summer window of the Boehly-Clearlake era was a disaster. Of the €250 million spent, two of the players have since been sold for a loss with many of the rest disappointing.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kalidou Koulibaly both departed after one season in SW6. Wesley Fofana, the most expensive deal, has suffered from injuries since signing and Marc Cucurella was also close to leaving this summer. The loan signing of Denis Zakaria was also futile, playing very little before returning to Juventus.
This was certainly not helped by Boehly conducting a lot of recruitment and business himself. However, the ambition was clearly displayed, be it scatter gun or not.
January saw a deviation from the summer’s strategy, especially with the appointment of Winstanley and Stewart. Spending was still vast but there was a clearer vision with those acquired.
Since the appointment of an actual Board of Directors, we have seen a desire for Chelsea to decrease the age of their squad.
The club has transitioned from the sixth oldest squad in the league in 2021/22 (27.1 years old) to the youngest this season with an average squad age of 23.7.
In recent years, Chelsea had become somewhat of a cup team. They had seen very little success in the league aside from top-four finishes, and with the success, they did see being unsustainable with managers rarely lasting longer than a season and a half.
As such, the look to decrease the squad age can be seen as a step forward in trying to make the team more sustainable. A younger squad can be better moulded by a manager with less player power due to less seniority under their belt to cause friction between them and the manager.
There will also be a look to retain the manager, Mauricio Pochettino, for as long as possible to ensure sustainability. For context, the manager of Boehly’s LA Dodgers, Dave Roberts, has been in charge since 2015 and is contracted until 2025.
The club attempted to do this with Graham Potter, giving the ex-Brighton & Hove Albion manager a five-year contract at the time.
However, the new ownership soon realised the differences between football and baseball and how differently fans act (particularly for clubs renowned for their success).
They have seemingly learned from their mistakes with Pochettino being handed a two-year deal this time around.
While many will see the money spent as vulgar, the way in which Boehly and Co have spent such money is quite innovative. The club have looked to utilise a UEFA FFP loophole with amortisation where transfer fees are spread over the length of the player’s contract.
For example, Enzo Fernandez was signed in January 2023 before UEFA’s decision to introduce a cap of five years on amortisation.
He was also handed an eight-year contract, keeping him at the club until 2031. Therefore, the reported £106.8 million fee would be spread over eight years, meaning the outlay on Fernandez on Chelsea’s books would come to around £13.5 million per year.
Many people have claimed money to be the decisive factor in players choosing Chelsea over clubs recently. However, this is far from the case.
Chelsea’s wage bill has significantly decreased with the sale of older players from the previous regime, and with newer contracts being smaller in value, reductions have been agreed on in certain circumstances. For example, many of the newer players saw their contracts decrease this season with pay cuts in place for not reaching the Champions League.
As such, with their handing out of long contracts to amortise fees and vast outgoings (particularly this summer) to balance the books, Chelsea are still within their revenue and in line with FFP regulations.
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