Since his multi-billion pound takeover of Chelsea in May 2022, Todd Boehly has been accused of adopting a scattergun approach to the transfer market.
But while it’s true that there are question marks over how Graham Potter is meant to fit all these players into a cohesive line up, there is also clearly a policy at play in west London.
Of the incoming 14 transfers and loans Boehly has thrashed out in his short time at the helm, 11 of them have been for players aged 25 or under. That figure includes latest arrival Mykhailo Mudryk, the £89 million ($109m) signing from Shakhtar Donetsk, who is just 22 years old.
While the captures of big-name experienced campaigners Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dominated many of the headlines in the summer transfer window, they were joined by Denis Zakaria (25), Marc Cucurella (24), Wesley Fofana (21), Carney Chukwuemeka (18), Omari Hutchinson (19), Cesare Casadei (20) and Gabriel Slonina (18).
Six months on, and with Chelsea marooned in mid-table and out of both domestic cup competitions, the club’s new stewards have not treated the normally frugal January window any differently. Big-money Mudryk has followed David Datro Fofana (19), Benoit Badiashile (21), Andrey Santos (18) and Joao Felix (23) into the club. By all accounts, they aren’t finished either.
Twenty-year-old PSV winger Noni Madueke is under serious consideration as another new year reinforcement, and the failed pursuit of Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez (22) has seen the Blues turn to breakout Brighton star Moises Caicedo (21). Meanwhile, England international midfielders Jude Bellingham (19) and Declan Rice (24) are long-term targets.
The remarkable injection of youth over the past eight months has unsurprisingly provoked a buzz, but with the current squad and this new philosophy teetering on imbalance, there must be a clear plan for all these starlets and prospective new arrivals to forge a career at Chelsea; a repeat of the lost years of the so-called ‘loan army’ must be avoided at all costs.
The defensive signings are justified. Chelsea only really compensated for the departures of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso in the summer without adding quality depth. With a fully-fit squad, Fofana and Badiashile certainly provide that, and should eventually push to start.
In midfield, all the signs point to an upcoming overhaul – indeed, it has probably already begun. Though it remains to be seen whether they are ready to be thrust into action, Andrey Santos and Casadei have huge potential, while any of Fernandez, Bellingham or Rice would represent a significant upgrade in an area of the field that has become stagnant.
All pretty logical so far, then.
However, when you analyse the attacking additions, the rationale becomes blurred. While Chelsea still lack a proven goalscorer, they have signed a raft of roaming young forwards whose profiles are very similar to Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic, neither of whom have yet celebrated their 25th birthdays themselves.
With Madueke potentially joining too, the pathway to the first team appears both overcrowded and winding for the likes of Chukwuemeka and Hutchinson. Felix – who is likely to become a permanent signing, all being well – and Mudryk have arrived to occupy the wide areas, while Pulisic, Sterling and Hakim Ziyech are already there and vying for starting places.
It’s rumoured that Havertz, Pulisic AND Ziyech are all on the Stamford Bridge chopping block, and that is perhaps the only way to make sense of the plethora of talent that has been brought in. Some serious streamlining will be required over the coming transfer windows.
Forgotten man Callum Hudson-Odoi must be watching on from Germany dismayed as his hopes of finally making an impact upon his return from a loan at Bayer Leverkusen are being essentially extinguished.
The same could be said of others who are either on loan or on the fringes of the first team. Levi Colwill is beginning to demonstrate his huge potential at Brighton, while Armando Broja, Trevoh Chalobah, Conor Gallagher and Lewis Hall – all academy products themselves – are part of the current squad but far from guaranteed starters.
Hudson-Odoi was something of a pioneer – the first quasi success story of Chelsea’s academy in the Roman Abramovich era after the oligarch syphoned some of his obscene wealth into the youth setup way back when, with Mason Mount and Reece James picking up the mantle a few years later and reaching even greater heights.
That is another route to the first team that seems even more complicated now, though, especially given only a minute percentage of academy players ever make a top-level breakthrough. The Telegraph reports that the influx of new, young first-team players has set off alarm bells among the agents and parents of current hopefuls at Cobham, with German clubs alerted to their potential availability as they see their dreams of starring for Chelsea dashed.
That should be a huge concern for the hierarchy given the recent success of the academy, and it makes the sudden departure from the culture of promoting from within all the more strange. Another era of endless loans before an eventual sad free transfer to a Football League club for those who choose to stay feels almost inevitable.
Boehly is reportedly keen to create a multi-club model to replicate the City Group and Red Bull set-ups to avoid that, earmarking France for its location. An in-house platform to demonstrate their credentials offers hope for future generations, but it will surely come too late for the current crop.
Throughout the Abramovich era, Chelsea supporters were crying out for talent to be promoted from within; for a group of stars to call their own. They have had a taste of the potential for homegrown success as a team that mixed academy products, experience and new signings lifted the Champions League in 2021 – albeit against the odds – and that balance is now viewed as part of the club’s identity.
It would be remiss for Boehly and his new transfer negotiators, Christopher Vivell and Paul Winstanley, to overlook that, and there must come a time when they put the chequebook away and take stock.
At present, they are risking the future of a now-famed talent pipeline when the club is only just reaping the rewards.