Todd Boehly’s vision has become clear during the January window, as Chelsea seeks to avoid Roman Abramovich’s obstruction.
Chelsea’s ownership has spent lavishly on new signings this season, but an ambition remains to keep the club’s brightest academy talents on the team.
Chelsea’s spending spree this season has taken many by surprise. This level of investment – approaching £500 million – was simply not expected from a group of American billionaires, a Swiss billionaire, a British entrepreneur, and a leading California-based investment firm.
For the second time in two decades, Chelsea appears to have struck gold. Unrivaled success and lavish signings were made under Roman Abramovich. The club’s new owners have invested just as much, but the goal is much bigger than on-field success.
Todd Boehly and fellow co-controlling owners Behdad Eghbali and Jose E. Feliciano have made no secret of their desire to commercially transform Chelsea; Feliciano revealed an ambition of generating £1 billion in revenue in October at the Bloomberg Investment conference in New York.
Success is seen as critical to achieving that goal, which explains the emphasis on bringing in a large number of high-quality and high-potential players. Gabriel Slonina, Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile, Andre Santos, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Noni Madueke are among those who have signed. Homegrown stars Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah, and Armando Broja have also received new contracts.
Naturally, such generosity in the transfer market has fueled speculation that Chelsea’s academy players will be overlooked once more. It remained a source of concern throughout Abramovich’s tenure, though it was temporarily alleviated in the summer of 2019.
Chelsea served a transfer ban that summer, and Frank Lampard, the club’s head coach at the time, chose to promote James, Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, and Tamara Abraham to the first-team squad. Several other debuts were given to club players, and the club finished fourth in the Premier League.
However, with money to spend ahead of the 2020/21 season, Chelsea appeared to revert to form by recruiting and integrating several players into the first-team squad. In the following season, under Thomas Tuchel’s management, the Blues did not field a single teenager in any of their Premier League games.
Tuchel’s reluctance to trust talented young players was a source of conflict following the Boehly/Clearlake takeover. That comes as no surprise given their desire to sign players under the age of 23, which was reaffirmed during this month’s transfer window. His departure from the club at the beginning of September was not either.
However, Boehly and Clearlake are not only looking outward; they are also focused on the talent being developed at Cobham. The Chelsea owners are said to regard the club’s academy as one of the best in the world, and they have privately mentioned how many players have left the club and established themselves across Europe.
Boehly and Clearlake want to avoid a repeat talent drain. It is for this reason that efforts are being made to keep Chelsea’s brightest young players at the club.
Early talks have begun with Levi Colwill, who is currently on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion, about a new long-term contract. Chelsea are close to agreeing a new contract with Charlie Webster, who has been courted by clubs across Europe, and Dion Rankine is expected to stay until 2025.
“[It’s important] you figure out how to make the academy – that is so top – collaborate with the first team,” explained Boehly at the Salt Conference in September. “You need to show players the pathway and you teach them about how you’re thinking about the future.”
The academy is an important part of Boehly and Clearlake’s long-term vision for Chelsea. Lewis Hall’s recent inclusion in the first team, despite having only recently celebrated his 18th birthday, demonstrates that homegrown talent will be given opportunities. Then, as has always been the case, the challenge is to take them.