Sterling, Koulibaly, Cucurella, De Jong: Understanding Todd Boehly and Chelsea's transfer strategy

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly (centre rear) watches training
A consortium, led by American investor Todd Boehly (centre rear) and private equity firm Clearlake Capital, took over Chelsea in May

As a former college wrestler, Todd Boehly has had plenty to grapple with since becoming Chelsea's co-owner in May.

Having first taken an interest in buying a Premier League club in 2014 - at the time it was Tottenham - he probably didn't expect the circumstances in which it finally happened earlier this summer.

But when the dominoes started to fall after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Roman Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale before he was sanctioned, it was a golden opportunity for the American billionaire even if it has seemingly provided him with a steep learning curve.

As a way of getting to grips with how the European transfer market works, appointing yourself as an interim sporting director could be described as a stroke of genius.

Yet after Boehly was pictured flying into Barcelona to do deals, watching the Catalan club pinch Raphinha and Jules Kounde from under Chelsea's noses and being linked with dozens of other names, it almost feels as if a touch of 'La La Land' has hit west London.

It is certainly providing lots of entertainment for fans, even if former Manchester United player Gary Neville has said:external-link "Boehly looks like he wants to play Football Manager."

Nevertheless, the LA Dodgers co-owner has lived up to his reputation as someone who is "aggressive" in his pursuit of success, by already landing Raheem Sterling from Manchester City, Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli and is close to signing Marc Cucurella from Brighton. Shifting Romelu Lukaku back to Inter Milan also showed a capacity to be decisive and as Boehly has described it: "Get stuff done".

Thankfully for everyone at Chelsea, the long-term future of the club is now secure. Yet the drama which often surrounds Chelsea has taken on a Californian glow and shows no immediate sign of abating while the transfer window remains open.

What type of transfer policy are we seeing at Chelsea?

Raheem Sterling (centre) between Chelsea co-owners Todd Boehly (left) and Behdad Eghbali (right)
Sterling (centre) joined Chelsea in July after spending seven years at Manchester City

The week that Chelsea spent in Los Angeles for the start of their pre-season last month seems like a long time ago now.

It was the perfect opportunity for Boehly and his fellow co-owners from Clearlake Capital to prove their credentials by showing staff and players around the LA Dodgers' stadium, and even parachuting Sterling into training at UCLA to join the relaxed start to their era.

But amid the sunshine and the palm trees of the Four Seasons hotel where the team were staying, manager Thomas Tuchel appeared twitchy, even before three matches where he bemoaned a lack of energy from his players.

He spoke of the "intense" relationship with Boehly and fellow directors as they messaged each other on a daily basis, attempting to catch-up in a transfer market in which they were hampered for almost three months because of the sanctions imposed on the club.

The German manager, who admits he is "impatient", told BBC Sport of how Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham had done their deals early, and although he was delighted to sign Sterling, who he called a "priority", he was hungry to boost his defence with two further signings, one of which was fulfilled by signing Koulibaly.

But having believed City's Nathan Ake or Sevilla's Kounde would join them, and both falling through, Chelsea are still searching for another defender and have seemingly diversified their approach. The Chelsea board may also have learned a thing or two about hijacking deals after their experiences with Barcelona. They have already discovered how clubs operate in different countries and how a good day can turn into a bad one quickly.

A deal is close for Brighton defender Cucurella, who appeared set to join City. There have also been links to Leicester centre-back Wesley Fofana, Southampton right-back Kyle Walker-Peters and Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who agreed a deal with Manchester United last month, but there were complex player payments associated with it.

But with Tuchel still wanting another centre-back to cover for the loss of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, and Chelsea already well stocked with attackers and midfielders, some fans may question what the club's transfer strategy is. Losing the know-how of former director Marina Granovskaia, plus technical and performance advisor Petr Cech during the first transfer window of the new era is another question Neville has posed.

Chelsea fans might be pleased the club are planning for the future having signed highly-rated midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka in a £20m deal from Aston Villa.

The biggest issue, however, is likely to surround whether Chelsea can offload some of their players before the end of the transfer window.

There has been plenty of talk, unsuccessful so far, of swap deals. But being able to negotiate outgoing loans or permanent moves, where players are on high salaries and may not wish to move, will be a further test for the new ownership over the next month.

Can Tuchel bridge top two gap?

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (centre)
Chelsea finished third in the Premier League under manager Thomas Tuchel (centre) last season

Tuchel is now facing his second full season in charge, but he might be forgiven for asking when he can catch a break.

Having taken over from Frank Lampard in mid-season in January 2021, he demonstrated his undoubted ability by leading the club to a second Champions League title and a top-four spot. Last season, the club made it to the League Cup and FA Cup finals, but were beaten on penalties by Liverpool on both occasions as the club was put up for sale.

Tuchel showed admirable leadership amidst the chaos. When sanctions struck, he became the spokesperson for the club and now wants to get back to simpler times on the training pitch once the transfer window closes. Dealing with incomings and outgoing is not his preference.

The 48-year old knows he is under pressure to deliver. That comes, in part, from a new ownership, even if they appear quite relaxed should he continue to deliver a similar level of success, but also a personal drive to win further silverware to ensure he can build a dynasty similar to City's Pep Guardiola or Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp.

Last season, several pundits tipped Chelsea for the title following Lukaku's arrival which appeared to be the missing piece of the jigsaw for a team which has failed to turn chances into goals. Yet it proved a dismal failure as the Belgian international struggled to fit into a team which dominates games through possession rather than taking a more direct route.

It is hoped that Sterling might be able to help solve that problem. Tuchel feels the England international can "shape" the team, and provide leadership to a youthful attack.

After the level of flux over the last six months, where once Chelsea looked like the team who were best placed to challenge City and Liverpool's duopoly at the top of the Premier League, Tuchel must re-set the team once more.

He has complained this week that his team are "not ready" for the new season after their "exhausting" tour of the United States, and will hope to avoid a repeat of last season where injuries to Ben Chilwell, Reece James and N'Golo Kante hampered their title challenge.

But he is also acutely aware that Tottenham have spent their pre-season making gains on the Blues and are led by a manager in Antonio Conte, who knows how to challenge for a Premier League title, having won it with Chelsea six seasons ago.

The new ownership do not feel like they need to rebuild the club and believe there is plenty of untapped potential at Chelsea both off and on the pitch, but as has been seen over the last couple of months, it may take some wrestling with for a while yet.

How to follow Chelsea on the BBC bannerChelsea banner footer

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC