Chelsea’s wild and exciting spending needs a plan – just ask Everton

“I put my money where my mouth is and, you know, that’s the most that an owner can do.”

It is almost seven years since Farhad Moshiri emerged as the answer to Everton’s long, troubled search for investment, initially buying a 49.9 per cent stake and promising to “give them whatever I have”.

That last bit wasn’t about giving Everton every last penny of his reported £1.7billion fortune, but he has certainly given that impression at times, ploughing more and more money into the Merseyside club. That includes the extraordinary pledge to “throw as much money as needed” at the construction of their new stadium as well as a series of huge capital injections, including another £100million last January.

Fair play, that is putting money — his money, he is always keen to state—where your mouth is. And for that, at least, Everton’s supporters are grateful, which is probably why protests against his regime tend to be directed to others, such as chairman Bill Kenwright and chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale, rather than the owner himself.

But Moshiri is severely, alarmingly mistaken if he feels, as he said in an interview with UK radio station talkSPORT last week, that putting “my money where my mouth is” is “the most that an owner can do”.

It isn’t. Just as it wouldn’t be enough for someone to shower their partner or their child with expensive gifts and say they did everything they could to make them happy.

The most a football club’s owner can do is care enough to look after it — for the short term, the medium term and the long term. Yes, that usually involves investment… but sensible investment rather than the type of wild, excitable, capricious spending that is unproductive as well as unsustainable.

And if we’re talking about wild, excitable, capricious spending, we need to talk about Chelsea, whose first two transfer windows under the ownership of Todd Boehly and the Clearlake Capital consortium have been just that.

The £273million they spent last summer — more than any English club had ever spent in one window — has brought no improvement whatsoever, so the first two weeks of this January one has brought more of the same: £35million for French defender Benoit Badiashile, £8million for Ivory Coast forward David Datro Fofana, an eye-watering £17million deal to take Joao Felix on loan from Atletico Madrid for half a season and now, incredibly, a projected £88million deal to sign Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk.

And they aren’t done yet.

It calls to mind something Ian Watmore said during his all-too-brief spell as chief executive of the Football Association just over a decade ago.

Horrified by discovering some of the excesses of a world he had previously viewed as an outsider, Watmore sighed as he spoke of the number of sensible and successful people who “leave their best judgment behind at the gates” when they enter the football industry.

Increasingly, modern football is populated by people who do the opposite.

Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are among the most extreme examples of clubs who have approached the transfer market with the kind of innovative, data-driven strategies traditionally associated with other businesses, but Liverpool and Manchester City have also attracted praise, as have Arsenal, who have started getting things right after years of drift under Stan Kroenke’s ownership.

It means those who do the opposite stick out like sore thumbs.

Across European football, there is a growing distinction between clubs working to a clear vision or plan and those who are too easily given to whims or impulses or too easily swayed by the advice of agents with a vested interest.

Tony Fernandes had been in charge of Queens Park Rangers for two years, blaming the west London club’s struggles on the various managers he had hired and fired, when he admitted his own mistakes.

“I think I was naive,” the airline tycoon said after their relegation from the Premier League in 2013. “You get excited, you get carried away and you throw out all the things you are very good at, like planning and analyzing. I was naive in thinking that everyone was like me. I think I allowed myself to be exploited.”

It is rare for an owner to admit to getting “carried away” or “exploited” — rather than the passive “mistakes were made” admission in Moshiri’s open letter to Everton’s supporters last summer — but it is an all too familiar story.

New ownership groups tend to be desperate to make an immediate impression, and to try to change things overnight.

Even successful regimes like those at Manchester City and Liverpool have had to learn from their early mistakes. The kind of sure-footed, sensible recruitment decisions made by Newcastle United in their two transfer windows so far under new ownership are far from the norm.

Moshiri also claimed in that talkSPORT interview that “some of the decisions we’ve taken” had been made in conjunction with Everton’s supporters. “All the managers who have left have been driven by the fans, not by me initially,” he said.

That is a questionable claim. But if Moshiri believes it, that too is alarming.

For an owner to suggest he has repeatedly been swept along by popular sentiment is not a good look, particularly when his regime appears so impervious to criticism when it comes to other areas, such as the same supporters’ calls for modernization and transparency at board level .

The tone for the Moshiri years at Everton was set in the summer of 2017 with an outlay of more than £150million in a transfer splurge that still left the squad almost devoid of speed, width and penetration in attack. In isolation, many of those deals could be rationalized. But together they all looked so jumbled. “What was the plan?”, we wondered — and have kept wondering almost ever since.

The same question has cropped up around Chelsea during this transfer window and the last.

Some of the fees they have agreed to pay are mind-boggling, but they are far from alone in that. The truly baffling thing is the sheer number of players they have signed.

They were already well-stocked in attacking areas even before they spent £47.5million on Raheem Sterling and £10.3million on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the summer and went beyond Christopher Nkunku’s £52.7million release clause at RB Leipzig to line up him for next season. And now they have added Mudryk and Fofana, plus Joao Felix on loan, and have also been negotiating with PSV Eindhoven for their England Under-21 winger Noni Madueke.

Davy Klaassen, left, and Wayne Rooney were two players signed by Everton in the summer of 2017 (Photo: VI Images via Getty Images)

It is the type of aggressive spending that often causes a sense of trepidation among rival fans, managers and, indeed, owners. But in this instance, it has all looked so scattergun.

Similar was often said of Chelsea under the previous ownership of Roman Abramovich, particularly when it came to the number of young players who were signed without any apparent plan to integrate them into the first team. Some, including Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, came, went and then forged highly successful careers elsewhere in the Premier League. Many other excellent prospects stagnated, unable to see a pathway to the first team at Stamford Bridge.

Maybe this Chelsea regime will prove smarter in that regard.

The appointments of Graham Potter, Christopher Vivell, Paul Winstanley, Laurence Stewart and Joe Shields (formerly of Brighton, Leipzig, Brighton, Monaco and Southampton respectively) amount to the kind of brains trust that was severely lacking in the summer when Boehly was leaving then -coach Thomas Tuchel exasperated by jumping from deal to deal as self-appointed “interim sporting director”. But from the outside, Chelsea’s January trading has still looked extremely impulsive — notwithstanding the talent of the young players in question.

At Everton, meanwhile, they continue to pay the price for past excesses — not just the various managers and directors of football who have come and gone, many of them privately lamenting the difficulties of making their voice heard, but the way the club’s erratic spending under Moshiri resulted in huge losses which have left them (by the Premier League’s generous estimation) with little room for maneuver if they are to comply with financial regulations.

As their current manager, Frank Lampard, said before this month’s transfer window opened, the financial restrictions mean Everton are going to have to be “sensitive” and “work in a smart way”.

That sounds like a pretty reasonable starting point for any club at any time. In the case of Moshiri-era Everton, it has been forced on them. And just like last season, the question is whether, operating under those constraints, they can scrape together enough points to stay in the Premier League and avoid the financial nightmare that would come with a first relegation since the 1950s.

Should the worst-case scenario occur in May, you can be sure Moshiri will pop up on talkSPORT once again to express regret — “mistakes were made” — and to say he put his money where his mouth is, which is the most an owner can do.

But it isn’t. It isn’t enough just to spend and hope for the best. Spending badly, without a clear plan, creates more difficulties than it solves. “More money, more problems,” as Potter said at the start of the season when, having been asked about his future, he suggested the grass might not be greener away from his then-job as Brighton coach.

A few weeks later, he was off to Chelsea to replace Tuchel, confident in his ability to build a winning team from the vast collection of talented players he would inherit there. But the past four months can only have underlined what Potter had previously said about the difference between those clubs with a clear vision and strategy, such as Brighton, and those with more money than they seem to know what to do with.

Spending is one thing, but in this age, more than ever, there has to be a plan.

(Top photo of Mykhailo Mudryk: Joupin Ghamsari/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

The Athletic‘s Spanish football coverage has expanded…


Leave a Comment