Chelsea, who have already spent over £200 million in the January window, look like they are going to cap their spending spree off by breaking the British transfer record. They are negotiating a fee for Enzo Fernandez of Benfica, which would exceed the £100 million that Manchester City paid Aston Villa for Jack Grealish in the summer of 2021.
This window has proved already that the financial power that the Premier League enjoys over all the other major leagues in Europe, but this transfer will serve to underline that point.
A year ago Fernandez, who is now 22 years old, was playing in Argentine football with River Plate.
The rise of the defensive midfielder since then has been meteoric.
In June last year he moved to Portuguese club Benfica in a deal worth up to £18 million, and he had gone on to play for them 29 times in all competitions, scoring one.
Named in the Argentina World Cup squad for the Qatar World Cup, he not only played every game for them as they won the trophy for the third time, but he was also named Best Young Player of the Tournament.
His form there attracted the attention of Chelsea, who are looking to rebuild their midfield with players like N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho both ageing and increasingly injury prone.
At the start of the window they made one approach for him which Benfica rejected because the fee was too low, and they did not like the structure of the deal.
Now, though, Chelsea look like they are going to get their man.
Chelsea have already bought Benoît Badiashile, strikers David Datro Fofana and Mykhailo Mudryk, winger Noni Madueke, central midfielder Andrey Santos, and right-back Malo Gusta (although he will spend the second half of this season back on loan with Lyon, in Ligue 1).
In addition, they have signed Joāo Felix on loan Felix on loan from Atlético Madrid.
Not only is this far more than any other club have spent in the January window, it is, by a factor of four, more than the other leagues in Europe have spent during the same period.
How can they afford it?
Chelsea are now owned by the conglomerate headed by the American businessman Todd Boehly, who bought the club for £4.5 billion last June after previous owner Roman Abramovich was forced to sell in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As part of their commitment when buying the club, the new owners undertook to invest £1.5 billion in the team, and the current spend is in line with that strategy.
Skirting FFP rules
One issue that Chelsea have had to face are the rules concerning Financial Fair Play rules, which govern how much clubs can spend as a percentage of their revenue.
In this window, they have effectively circumvented these rules by giving a number of players that they have signed really long contracts, and amortising the cost of their transfer over the length of those contracts.
Mudryk, for example, signed an eight and a half year deal, the longest in Premier League history.
UEFA have subsequently closed this loophole, by restricting the maximum amortisation period to five years, but the new regulations will not come in until the summer, and will not be retrospective.
That means that Fernandez can also be expected to join on a very long contract.
Whilst this has many benefits form an accounting perspective, there is also a risk attached to this strategy.
If the transfer fails to work out, then the club will be stuck with an underperforming asset that remains on their books and who they are still required to pay.
Older Chelsea fans will recall the case of Dutch defender Winston Bogarde whom they signed for a large fee in 2000, who hardly paid for the club in the following four years, but was happy to remain with them because of the salary he was getting.
Pursuit of Champions League football
For all their spending in the January transfer window, Chelsea still have a lot of work to do if they want to qualify for the lucrative Champions League next season. They are currently 10th in the Premier League table, ten points off fourth placed Manchester United.
Adding so many new faces at once does not mean that they are all going lot gel, and it could be until the summer before manager Graham Potter has time to work with them all properly on the training ground.
And, by then, he will also certainly have some new faces in his ranks as well.
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