New Chelsea owner Todd Boehly believes that major clubs will no longer be able to sign players “at any price.”
US businessman Boehly fronted a consortium that took over Chelsea last month, emerging victorious in a bidding process of that lasted a number of months, ever since the sale of the club had to be expedited after former owner of 19 years – Roman Abramovich – was forced to sell the club due to him being hit by UK Government sanctions in the wake of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, with Abramovich having had historical ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The Abramovich era at Chelsea changed the landscape in English football forever when he breezed in back in 2003 with an open chequebook, a willingness to lose lots of money and a desire to win trophies. When the Russian left Chelsea the club had racked up some £1.5bn in loans to his firm Fordstam Ltd, although their former owner wrote off the large sums owed to him.
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Last summer Chelsea were big spenders in the market, with Romelu Lukaku re-joining the Stamford Bridge club for nearly £100m, while Manchester City completed a deal for Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for the same sum. This summer has already seen big spending with Liverpool landing Darwin Nunez for a fee that could rise to as high as £85m, while Manchester City inked a deal for Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, meeting his £51m release clause and committing to a weekly wage not far off £400,000 per week.
But a change in approach to Chelsea is likely, one that steers them away from an era of excess. Boehly, part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, believes that the threat of Financial Fair Play in European football getting stronger powers means that owners won’t be able to operate such an open-wallet policy at clubs to lure the best players no matter the price tag.
“Financial Fair Play is starting to get some teeth and that will limit the ability to acquire players at any price,” Boehly said at the SuperReturn International conference in Berlin, via Reuters. “UEFA takes it seriously and will continue to take it seriously. (More teeth) means financial penalties and disqualification from sporting competitions.”
In recent years, UEFA have investigated both Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain over alleged breaches. Action was taken against City in 2020 to ban them from European competition for two years after it was alleged Premier League side had artificially inflated the value of sponsorship deals in a bid to get around FFP rules, although that was a decision that was overturned at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who cited a lack of evidence. No action was taken against PSG either.
In Spain the pandemic impacted the big two of Barcelona and Real Madrid, particularly the former, and hard spending caps were placed upon them to avoid them digging themselves into an even bigger hole. That has seen them be less active that they were previously in the market when it comes to paying transfer fees, with Barcelona having to shed the likes of Lionel Messi in order to find themselves able to operate.
While FFP issues have been something to darken the door of some clubs, for Liverpool, who have been turned into a profitable business as well as a successful football club under the ownership of Fenway Sports Group, it hasn’t been an issue that they have had to pay too much mind to.
The Reds operate a strict wage structure, and while it is one of the Premier League’s biggest it is something that doesn’t trouble European football’s authorities. Liverpool’s £314m wage bill spend for the most recently published 2020/21 financial period saw them spend 64.4 per cent of turnover of £487m on salaries, a percentage comfortably under the 70 per cent that UEFA recommend to clubs. It is part of the reason why the renegotiation of Mohamed Salah’s contract has been a drawn out affair as the Reds try to plot what the future trajectory of wage liabilities could be should they bend to pay the kind of wages that are seen at Manchester City for their top stars.
While this summer the move for Nunez represents a big outlay, Liverpool’s history of player trading means that the club are one who tries to push towards being net positive, with the sale of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich for a fee of £35m going some way to offsetting outlay.
FFP has been criticized for its lack of authority in the past. With UEFA having been emboldened to try and find ways to strengthen their hand against the biggest clubs after the European Super League saga a focus has been to ensure that they have the powers to curb spending. That is something that Boehly clearly believes is coming down the tracks, and some clubs will be more concerned than others.