A 90% chance sounds like a lot. It is. However, relying on the parallel success of multiple such chances quickly becomes a problem. A football club might be 90% sure that a signing’s fitness, versatility, quality, and style will all fit the current squad while being 90% sure his relationship with the coach and his ability to settle in a new area will also work. But mathematically, this many variables leads to just a 50% chance of success overall, despite the club’s relative confidence in each area individually.
This makes Chelsea’s recent spending all the more inexplicable. As it’s difficult to imagine the club could have been 90% sure of their assessment in many aspects of their highest-profile moves since owner Todd Boehly’s arrival. Amortization (spreading a fee over the length of the contract) over long deals to ease Financial Fair Play restrictions is smart if those signings offer the necessary longevity and guarantees. But Chelsea’s new-look squad carries no such assurance.
Most of Chelsea’s recent additions have essentially amounted to a series of expensive gambles, very few of which have worked. Many have arrived minus a track record of success – or much of a CV at all. A younger age profile, potential resale value, and raw potential won’t see Chelsea return to the Champions League on their own. Especially when at least six other teams have similar resources and ambitions.
Boehly and Co. seem to have completely overlooked how uncompromising English football is. It could be argued that Chelsea are playing the long game, that these players will grow and improve together over multiple seasons much like an NBA or NFL team might draft young players (who don’t carry transfer fees, of course) to build a team around. However, that conflicts with Graham Potter’s sacking as the side dropped into midtable. Short-term expectations are clearly higher.
New coach Mauricio Pochettino’s squad is undeniably talented and could yet explode as the club seems to hope it will. But their competitors have a similar level of ability as well as far more sensible and balanced transfer policies, making such a hope speculative at best, especially when targeting Premier League and Champions League titles.
Mykhailo Mudryk epitomizes Chelsea’s misguided largesse. Young, skilful, direct, and lightning-fast, the 22-year-old is an exciting prospect on paper, but applying that ability in the Premier League to offer consistent end product is more than tricky. Damningly for Chelsea, there was virtually no evidence the Ukrainian was capable of such output before his €70m plus add-ons transfer.
Nine goals and 13 assists over 23 Ukrainian Premier Liga games across two seasons should have been all but disregarded (given Chelsea’s lofty aims) even before Russia’s invasion of the country which has the league’s level is impossible to assess. As a result, Mudryk’s signing was apparently based on three goals and two assists in six Champions League group-stage games last season – all of which came against RB Leipzig and Celtic. As devastating as Mudryk’s displays in those games were, four good games against middling opposition is a vanishingly small sample size for a scout looking to have confidence that such a marquee signing will succeed.
If Mudryk was a one-off risk, it might be easier to understand. But it’s a pattern that repeats. The thought process behind Chelsea signing Malo Gusto, Nicolas Jackson, Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, and Romeo Lavia is equally baffling, especially given the fees involved – €314m in total. The squad is riddled with confusing signings lacking any common sense.
Gusto is an attacking midfielder who was recently converted into a right-back. Although his breakthrough at Lyon was often thrilling, his defending is shaky at best and his crossing, although prolific, is wildly inconsistent. Although he may only be the new captain Reece James’ understudy, it’s difficult to imagine the young Frenchman not being exposed at both ends in the Premier and Champions Leagues at this stage of his career as he was at OL.
The now 20-year-old Gusto’s craft as a defender is wholly underdeveloped. He needs to play every week in an environment away from the Premier League spotlight to realise his potential as growing pains are inevitable – potentially a major issue for a side with Chelsea’s aims and high-quality competitors. Although James may often miss out through injury, Chelsea will be hoping that doesn’t happen, of course, meaning their plan is effectively for Gusto not to get the minutes he clearly needs, benefitting no one.
An exciting and pacey but raw attacker, Jackson’s case mirrors Mudryk’s. The Senegalese international is now Chelsea’s first choice number nine, meaning Pochettino will realistically need at least 20 goals a season from Jackson, considering the club’s aims, but there’s no evidence to suggest this is likely. Having been promoted from Villarreal’s youth team a year ago, Jackson provided 13 goals and five assists in 38 games across all competitions last season.
The London club’s decision to sign the 22-year-old seems to have been based on a run of nine goals in his last eight La Liga games. Some of those displays may have been suitably explosive (even if only one of those goals was against a top-six team), but they hardly offer guarantees of success longer term or suggest an ability to score goals consistently at a higher standard. Although Jackson showed flashes of his dynamic best in the West Ham defeat, he’s (unsurprisingly) clearly a long way from the complete striker.
Wesley Fofana’s signing was perhaps the most misguided of all. Although talented and promising in the Premier League at Leicester (despite another small sample size of 82 senior games) his repeated injuries made the huge €80m (plus bonuses) outlay utterly bewildering. While his contract runs to 2029, meaning plenty of time to recover from his latest knee injury and allowing the fee to be spread out accordingly, FFP remains a concern for Chelsea. That €80m could have been put to far more sensible uses.
Chelsea’s entire spending policy under Boehly, outside the eye-watering fees, clever accounting, and FFP controversy, often has no basis in footballing reality. Amongst the €1bn spent on new players in the last year, arguably only Enzo Fernandez has become a true success so far. It’s like a Football Manager algorithm spat out a group of theoretically good players and the club signed them without considering any other factors.
It’s difficult to imagine the club were anywhere near 90% sure about even the majority of factors involved in these major deals. Should such reckless spending continue, Chelsea’s chances of success, much like their transfers, are likely to be well below 50%.
Adam White | Get Football