REMEMBER Pierluigi Casiraghi, the Italian international signed by Chelsea in May 1998 for £ 5.4 million? Not many people do, for his 10 Premier League appearances cost around half a million a piece. Luckless Casiraghi sustained a bad injury in November of that year and was never seen again.
Historically, big price tags haven’t weighed too well on the shoulders of some of Chelsea’s big captures. This summer, they’ve bought a clutch of major signings, all young – with the exception of old hand Thiago Silva from Paris Saint-Germain – and the one they’re still waiting for, Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, could arrive at Stamford Bridge with an anvil-sized fee of £ 90 million hanging over him.
You can trawl through Chelsea’s back story to find a number of big signings that failed to last the distance or didn’t live up to expectations for one reason or another: Tommy Lawton (dispute), Tony Hateley (wrong style), Alan Birchenall (lost place), Keith Weller (funds needed for purchases), David Hay (injuries), Duncan McKenzie (wrong time), Fernando Torres (too expensive), Kepa (loss of form), Tiemoue Bakayoko (failed to impress), Andrei Shevchenko (too old), Danny Drinkwater (not needed), Michy Batshuayi (quality issues), Alvaro Morata (quality issues) and so on and so forth. Chelsea are not the only club to experience this by any means, but it is curious that three of the club’s four biggest signings have been something of a disappointment.
This summer, Chelsea have shown they are focused again – or rather, the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, has recognised the need to increase support for Frank Lampard in his second season, especially as Chelsea endured a transfer window ban last year. It could be Abramovich realises Chelsea have been “relegated” from their place in the top two/three and are one of a number of clubs now chasing Liverpool and Manchester City. The age of the oligarch club may be over and the era of the uber-coaches, Guardiola and Klopp, is upon us. Certainly, the bar has been raised and Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United are not what they were a couple of years ago. All four clubs have changed coaches over the past two seasons while Liverpool have enjoyed the gradual build-up of Klopp’s high octane approach and City swept-up under Guardiola in 2018 and 2019. Although Chelsea did eventually qualify for the UEFA Champions League, their place in the competition can no longer be guaranteed.
If Chelsea secure Havertz, their spending will have gone beyond £ 200 million, their highest since 2017-18 and only the second time the club have hit that mark in a single season’s outlay. They may also make a move for Declan Rice, the 21 year-old West Ham midfielder and there was talk of the excellent Atlético Madrid keeper, Jan Oblak, joining the club. The plethora of big signings does raise some questions about the future of some of the youngsters who became more important during the Financial Fair Play ban in 2019-20, notably Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi, although both players still have time on their side.
It’s an intriguing collection of talent that has already arrived at Chelsea this summer. Timo Werner is just 24 and the £ 47.7 million they paid for him may prove to be a bargain. Liverpool, who were very interested in the Germany international, may regret not being able to add him to their title-winning squad. Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech cost £ 36 million and looks an exciting acquisition with excellent free-kick technique. Ben Chilwell is only 23 and expensive for a full back (£ 45.2 million), but he has already won 11 England caps. Malang Sarr, 21, was picked up on a free from Nice but will spend 2020-21 out on loan after signing a five-year contract. Silva’s arrival can only be regarded as a short-term arrangement to add experience to the squad.
Chelsea’s summer is not quite as dramatic as Abramovich’s first couple of seasons in London where he ran-up a net spend of £ 297 million, but it does show a certain loosening of the purse strings. At the moment, it’s a negative net spend of around £ 70 million, the fifth highest net balance they’ve had in a season. It’s strange that this should come at a time when clubs are struggling to come to terms with reduced income during the CV-19 crisis, underlining the theory that those with wealthy owners will navigate the post-pandemic world far better than the majority.
Blues’ fans will be hoping the club’s new players hit the ground running when the season gets underway, but the team that starts 2020-21 may look very different from the side that ended Lampard’s first campaign. One thing is clear, Chelsea are upping their game once more and have brought more quality to Stamford Bridge, including one of Europe’s most sought-after young strikers. It it goes to plan, they could be in contention once more.