Chelsea fans knew it would be a bit of a return to Roman Abramovich’s ownership – although doubtful-at-the best roots he made transformed Chelsea from a mere race to a world power beyond all their dreams – to whoever came next. American ownership of Premier League teams has always been viewed with suspicion, and rightly so, and no one has to look much further than the failed Super League fiasco that was driven in part by American owners Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. The United and Arsenal stewards haven’t shone much light on the American owners either.
Todd Boehly’s first few weeks as Chelsea owner won’t do much either.
It wasn’t a huge shock to see a heap of turnover in the boardroom and front office at Chelsea when Boehly took over. Marina Granovskaia is essentially the architect of the current team, although she has always been linked to Abramovich, and therefore likely to leave once the club is sold. But the fact that Boehly decided to run things himself in the meantime, and the way he’s running things, is certainly curious. Hadn’t he foreseen this?
It started badly when Boehly thought he could revolutionize the construction of lists in soccer with trades. Except swaps aren’t something that happens in football. You can rely on one hand on the number of player trades we’ve seen over the past decade, mostly because players can tell a team to fuck off. They don’t have to go if they don’t want to (new concept in American sports, I know). You can send them to train on their own, you can never play them, you can badmouth them in the press, but if they want to stay, they can stay. Didn’t Boehly know that? Did he think he could work around this problem? Either way, it hasn’t shown the best grasp of how player transactions work in football, which makes it even stranger that Boehly thinks he can run Chelsea’s front office, even at interim title. Or does he not have the money? Rumor has it that these kind of negotiations have hampered Chelsea’s bid to sign Matthijs de Ligt from Juve, as Chelsea offered Christian Pulisic or Timo Werner as part of the return, instead of the money Juve want.
Chelsea were able to take Romelu Lukaku’s wages off the bill for this season, but only on loan at Inter, which isn’t the best return on investment for their $110m outlay last year. Raheem Sterling still hasn’t arrived, although it has seemed imminent for weeks, which is a plus. Chelsea are waiting for Raphina, who is waiting for Barcelona to stop several banks so they can pay the price Chelsea have already agreed to pay Leeds for him.
But Chelsea are still short of centre-backs, having lost Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen on free transfers this summer. Right now they have Thiago Silva, 38 (39 in September), Harvey the bunny and a ghost runner in the middle of the baseline. Sterling doesn’t play in defense which makes it odd that he was the first priority for manager Thomas Tuchel or Boehly or both.
And now the Christiano Ronaldo Rumors began. He has a stomach ache to leave Manchester, partly because they suck and partly because it has been whispered that Chelsea will give him a way to continue playing Champions League football. Ronaldo certainly means goals, and Chelsea lacked a dead-eyed striker to finish the chances they create and Lukaku was meant to be. Ronaldo barely moves and blows a payroll, and is probably an unrepentant asshole, but he scores. But he’s not pressing either, and the Juve and United midfielder has certainly cracked and bent under the weight of the teams able to get around their forward lines so easily under Ronaldo’s gaze. Maybe Tuchel or Boehly think they can make up for all of Ronaldo’s shortcomings (on the pitch) with far better organization and energy than United have ever been close to producing, but that’s a huge gamble. But Tuchel’s teams are pressing. They were fourth last season in passes per defensive action, which means they don’t give teams time. How do you do that with an obelisk in the first line of defense? They won the Champions League with Kai Havertz as a false nine, dropping in midfield and linking up in midfield and wide forwards, and that’s when they were the best of the year last. If Tuchel wants that plus 20 goals, Ronaldo won’t make it first, Havertz isn’t really second, and they need a different answer.
And Chelsea’s midfield is still old and slow, with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho among the top picks. They are certainly unprepared for teams waltzing right next to Ronaldo with the ball and having easy ways to pass and dribble over and around them.
So is there a plan here? Or is Boehly just chasing the biggest names he can get? The Dodgers can do it, because baseball is essentially an individual sport. You can drop Mookie Betts or Freddie Freeman or Max Scherzer or Trea Turner into the lineup at any time and it’s not like it’s going to shake too much. You have just upgraded a location. Football is not that, and adding Ronaldo or not being able to add Raphina and losing other players while you wait has repercussions.
There is still a month before the start of the season, and another month after before the transfer window closes. Boehly has time, but so far he hasn’t done much to stop anyone from thinking he’s convinced of his own genius just because of his bank account.