In case you’ve missed it, Chelsea are signing… everyone.
The Blues are busy in their first proper summer under the new leadership trio of Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Marina Granovskaia. While the transfer ban was lifted for the January transfer window just gone the Blues hierarchy clearly didn’t feel comfortable spending big, preferring instead to get all their ducks in a row for the summer.
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The first, and most important, duck was securing Champions League football, or at least get close enough to it that the board felt confident securing signings. With that done the floodgates have opened.
Hakim Ziyech came first, then came Timo Werner. Ben Chilwell was next and in the next couple of days (or even hours) Thiago Silva, Malang Sarr and Kai Havertz are all expected to join as well as possibly a goalkeeper. Depending on what reporting you believe Chelsea are slated to spend around £200 million.
In the summer of 2003, when Roman Abramovich bought the club from Ken Bates Chelsea spent around £110-115 million to bring in Glen Johnson, Geremi, Wayne Bridge, Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron, Adrian Mutu, Alexey Smertin, Hernan Crespo, Neil Sullivan and Claude Makelele. In January Scott Parker arrived for a further £10 million. It’s a hell of a lot of money but perhaps more crucially, a hell of a lot of players.

Adrian Mutu a fost transferat la Chelsea în 2003

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Because right now a lot of people, including my esteemed colleague Marcus Foley, are wondering whether Chelsea are taking a risk too far with their transfer activity. Foley argues, quite fairly in my opinion, that in a usual window adding a lot of players is tough as it will take time for them to get assimilated but in this bizarre, heavily shortened, off-season it’s asking for disaster.
It’s tempting to draw parallels between the this summer and 2003, with Chelsea flexing their financial muscles to catch their rivals on the hop and close a gap. In 2003 Chelsea had more money than absolutely everyone and having secured Champions League football thought their riches could close the gap between them and the established big two. This summer with most of their rivals hamstrung as a result of the pandemic the Blues feel as if they can possibly close the gap not only to Manchester City but to Liverpool too. Both iterations of Chelsea finished in the Champions League places and both were good squads that were not quite great, the money changed that.
Obviously the following season Chelsea moved up to second in 2003-04 behind Arsenal’s Invincibles and then the season after that they brought in Jose Mourinho and produced one of the most dominant seasons in Premier League history. Arsenal and Manchester United seemed in a class of their own, if not totally uncatchable, much like the Liverpool and Manchester City of today.

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So in many ways you can understand Chelsea’s logic. They have a nice collection of players, but they are a step or two behind the league leaders, so why not spend big to close those gap? However it seems highly unlikely that a certain Lionel Messi will qualify under this premise. Whilst Messi is still the best player in the world, and would certainly elevate Chelsea to a new level, he doesn't really fit in with what they're trying to do. Whilst Chelsea could certainly afford Messi and his exorbitant wages he's operating under a different time frame to the rest of the squad. This Chelsea team is built to challenge in Europe in a couple of years, Messi will be in win now mode. It's a nice idea but realistically this was a transfer for another time, at least as far as Chelsea are concerned.
Anyways returning to the Chelsea hypothesis of spend now, close the gap. That’s where the argument of risk comes in. Chelsea’s game against Bayern Munich where they lost 4-1 took place on August 8. Their first Premier League match of the season is scheduled to be on September 14. That’s an entire off-season consisting of just five weeks, normally that might be a pre-season length. You have potentially five new starters to integrate, six perhaps if there is a goalkeeper change. Not only do you have to get those new signings up to scratch but you have to work to phase out those players who are not going to be as involved, or involved at all. Pedro and Willian have gone but how many other players are still training who you would imagine aren’t part of Lampard’s plans? Five or six perhaps?
It’s going to take a monumental effort in terms of squad-building, a big ask for a manager who is only starting his third season. But there are some reasons to suggest that perhaps this isn’t as risky as it immediately seems.
Firstly, this was going to be a weird off-season/start to the season anyway, regardless of how many signings Chelsea made. Yes, you can argue that keeping continuity will be a valuable asset but it’s going to be a big ask for every team. In many ways, might this be the best time to bring in a lot of signings as they will be given more slack rather than being expected to hit the ground running?

Chelsea's newly signed Technical and Performance Advisor Petr Cech poses for a photo at Stamford Bridge on June 20, 2019 in London, England.

Image credit: Getty Images

Furthermore, the first couple of weeks of the season are going to be absolute chaos anyway, with international football scheduled. Teams are going to be without their star players at various stages and are going to be far from full strength until we get further in. This year more than ever the old adage of “a season is a marathon not a sprint” will ring true. It would not be a surprise to see multiple teams struggle initially.
Finally consider that the deals for Ziyech and Werner were concluded in February and June respectively. The pandemic delayed their initial arrival but they still had that time to acclimatise themselves as best they could. They could talk to their new team-mates and coaching staff, as well as studying footage to learn more about how they’ll fit into their new club. They both touched down in London to give them plenty of time to get sharp and up to speed. It will be a lot tougher for the others, particularly Havertz and Silva given they are playing in a new league and, in the case of the latter, his season has only just finished. At least Chilwell understands what it takes to play in the Premier League.
Ultimately only time will tell whether or not these signings pay off for Chelsea. Given the money spent expectations are going to be extremely high but that’s why you play at a big club. However it seems easier to justify the club’s actions. They have to take advantage of the financial power they have over their rivals. Plus if these signings pay off it could provide an establish core for years to come. All their possible additions bar Silva are either in their prime or entering it. Adding them to the young players already in place could avoid spending big in the future. After all part of the reason champions Liverpool won’t be adding big names to their squad is because they are already so complete. Chelsea are trying to accelerate the catching-up process. They believe it’s going to work and they may well be right.
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