Todd Boehly looked very comfortable on the Stamford Bridge turf during Sunday’s lap of appreciation after Chelsea’s win against Watford. He shook hands with Thomas Tuchel and embraced many of the players; it was all very relaxed and befitting of the warm and informal manner of the American.
But now, the Government has finally granted Chelsea a licence to sell the club to the Boehly consortium. He will have much to do once the U.S. billionaire gets his feet under his new desk.
The first thing on Boehly’s to-do list has been rumbling on for a few weeks – and is now more urgent with the season now ended and the transfer window opening shortly. Sorting out player contracts for players the club wants to keep, and those they want to leave must be the first priority.
This will hopefully go some way to appeasing Tuchel, whose frustration at not being able to discuss contracts with players due to the sanctions has been clear in recent weeks. Boehly made his strategy clear during the bidding process: his belief is that success on the pitch would bring success on the balance sheet. Therefore, resources need to be targeted at continued success and trophies at Chelsea.
I believe Tuchel is the most important element in ensuring Chelsea will be successful on the pitch, and that being the case, if Boehly wants his strategy to work, he must sign Tuchel up to a long-term contract, discuss and agree on a long-term plan, and then let him get on with it while giving him the support to do so.
Tuchel has talked about the need for a squad rebuild. It is hard to disagree. Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have already gone. It is possible Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso, Jorginho, and Kepa could follow. There are also doubts about Romelu Lukaku, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner, Malang Saar, Ross Barkley and Kenedy.
Of last season’s first-team squad, only Edouard Mendy, Thiago Silva, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah and Ben Chilwell will be certain to still be with the club come August. Clearly, it is unrealistic to ship out between six and thirteen players in one summer – and as Tuchel has already said, it will take several transfer windows and arguably several years to re-shape the squad to his liking.
Tuchel, having been at Chelsea for over a year, surely has had enough time to assess in his own mind who is good enough, who can play the way he wants, and the formation he would play given the right players. He should already have a plan, and hopefully, with a change in ownership, he’ll get to implement it.
In the short term, this will mean balancing the needs of success on the pitch while implementing a long-term plan to build towards something sustainable and affordable. I suspect this will mean replacing players who are leaving and filling the vital holes in the squad. In short, the spine of the team through the defence, midfield and attack.
There is a clear need to get rid of the deadweight; replace mediocre squad players with the best of the youth coming through (recalled loanees rather than recent academy graduates), which should mean recalls for Billy Gilmour, Conor Gallagher, Levi Colwill, Ethan Ampadu and Armando Broja.
We know Boehly likes to make a few marquee signings, judging from his ownership of the LA Dodgers, so perhaps Chelsea may sign one or two world-class players in areas that need to be urgently addressed. Jules Kounde from Sevilla looks very likely, while Declan Rice still looks like a difficult signing to make happen given West Ham’s intransigence (and exorbitant price). You can add a goal-scoring creative midfielder and a striker who can finish to that list too.
It seems a difficult task to make this all happen this summer, and given Man City and Liverpool’s wealth of talent and experience and the newly-rich Newcastle, plus an emerging Spurs, Arsenal and Man Utd, next season’s Premier League will arguably be more difficult than ever.
There will be a need for patience from supporters, but more important the new ownership. But that change of ownership is, of course, key to this. The previous regime got many things right: 19 trophies won and plenty of world-class players purchased, and more recently, the fruition of the Cobham project in the shape of Mount, James, Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek and Chalobah.
However, much of the Roman Abramovich era will be remembered for chaos in the transfer market and long-term projects and plans being destabilised by constant upheaval, with managers lasting on average 18 months before Abramovich pulled the trigger.
Consequently, Tuchel has been left with a mix-and-match squad, a legacy of at least four different managers, interspersed with a few academy graduates and a dearth of genuinely world-class players. In addition, Chelsea still has a number of poor quality squad players and a plethora of failed players out on loan: Michy Batshuayi, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Baba Rahman, to name but three.
This must change with better targeting of players specifically brought in as part of a plan, with Tuchel at the centre of it. Under the previous regime, this approach always failed due to the manager’s tenure being cut short. It all hinges, therefore, on whether Tuchel is seen as the man to stay for the long term and is allowed to see his vision come to fruition, rather than counting the trophy haul and top-four finishes, important though that may be.
Both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp were afforded the same time to rebuild the Man City and Liverpool squads. In my view, Tuchel is on the same level as Guardiola and Klopp and Chelsea, under the ownership of the Boehly group, needs to back him as City and Liverpool have backed Guardiola and Klopp.
The key to success in taking over an organisation is the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and Chelsea has got much right in the last 19 years, which is possibly why Bruce Buck and the current management team have been kept on. However, there are many areas, other than impatience, sacking managers and short-sighted transfers, where the previous regime could have done much better and need fixing; areas such as the relationship and engagement with the supporters.
Headway has already been made between the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust and the Boehly group, and the lines of communication are very much open.
Top of this list must be delivering on the ideas discussed during the bidding process, such as the ‘golden share’, the shadow board, and clearing the Chelsea Pitch Owners’ loan. Even more important than these substantive points will be to include supporters as part of the decision-making process rather than being told of decisions as a fait accompli, an all too familiar occurrence under the previous regime.
There are other important areas which affect supporters where the Boehly group can improve on the previous regime, which should be added to the to-do list.
The priority must be ticket prices. It is unlikely the obscene uplift in season ticket prices in the West Stand upper will be revoked, but at a time of immense financial pressure on supporters due to fuel prices and inflation tanking the economy, increasing season ticket prices throughout the ground would be a PR disaster for Boehly and a case of shooting themselves in the foot with a Howitzer. Any goodwill will disappear, and the honeymoon would be short-lived.
Other thorny issues with supporters might now be addressed with a fresh eye able to offer more positive solutions. The issues regarding ticket allocations, loyalty points, the onerous virtual waiting room, and the reprehensible administration charge. The ticket office operations need to be brought into the 21st century, although I believe that plans to upgrade and modernise this were underway before the sanctions hit.
The Boehly group also need to address long-standing supporter issues such as maintaining, nay improving, an authentic football atmosphere. No cheerleaders, please, Todd!
And then there is the biggest elephant in the room: the promised stadium redevelopment. This was an issue that even Abramovich and his money could not resolve. The cost of the development doubled, and the need for outside investment was clear before Abramovich finally pulled the plug on the project.
Boehly may face and must revisit all the old problems with building a new stadium on a small footprint in one of the most exclusive …