Inside Todd Boehly’s first weeks at Chelsea

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It has not taken Todd Boehly long to make his mark at Chelsea.

The club’s official announcement confirming Boehly’s consortium had completed the takeover came on May 30. Less than a month later and Chelsea already have a very different look about them.

The men’s team have not yet made a signing, which inevitably has caused some anxiety among impatient supporters eager to see the squad strengthened after Chelsea fell well short in the title race last season.

But that wait will come to an end soon enough.

What has been intriguing about the opening throes of the new regime has been getting an indication of how things are going to be done and just what kind of owner Boehly is going to be.


This week has been another significant one in the modern history of Chelsea Football Club.

Long-term stalwarts of the Roman Abramovich regime, chairman Bruce Buck and director Marina Granovskaia, were always expected to depart at some point. But the news that they are stepping down now, albeit with the proviso both are still on hand to advise if required for the time being, has taken many by surprise.

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Buck (left, with Boehly in May) stepping down has come as a surprise to many (Photo: Adam Davy / PA Images via Getty Images)

On Wednesday a statement was released confirming who is on the new board. Added to the list of names alongside chairman Boehly are his fellow “co-controlling owners” Behdad Eghbali and Jose E. Feliciano of Clearlake Capital. Then come co-owners Mark Walter, Hansjorg Wyss and Jonathan Goldstein. Plus director Barbara Charone, journalist Lord Daniel Finkelstein and James Pade, a partner and managing director at Clearlake Capital.

It is obviously early days, following a takeover that came about very suddenly and so little is yet known about what kind of role or input these eight other people will have at Chelsea.

But it is already evident that Boehly is going to be very hands on – certainly more than Abramovich ever was. He and Eghbali are said to be very accessible – constantly available via email if they are not in the UK – as they attempt to get to grips with running Chelsea as quickly as possible.

There was some evidence of this when, as part of the board declaration, the post on Chelsea’s official website added: “The announcement includes the departure of Marina Granovskaia, director of Chelsea FC. Boehly will operate as interim sporting director until the Club names a full-time replacement, continuing the Club’s work towards its targets during the current transfer window. “

It may seem strange to outsiders for Boehly to take a position of such responsibility; to effectively replace Granovskaia as the person in charge of incomings and outgoings. But it has come as no shock to those within the game or to Granovskaia herself.

The most significant transaction on the playing side to take place so far is the negotiation with Inter Milan over the loan of Romelu Lukaku back to the Serie A club, which should be completed next week.

It was a very difficult decision to make despite Lukaku making it clear he wants to leave and coach Thomas Tuchel not standing in his way. Sources suggest there was a difference of opinion within the hierarchy when the possibility of a loan came to light. With the deal only lasting 12 months, it poses questions: what happens in a year time? Will he want to come back then? What happens if the loan doesn’t work out? The striker, who costs a club record £ 97.5 million and turns 30 next May, is depreciating in value all the time.

Once the green light was given to negotiate with Inter it was Boehly, not Granovskaia, who took charge. The American has a wealth of experience overseeing business deals – he is co-founder of Eldridge Industries and has stakes in the LA Dodgers, LA Lakers and LA Sparks. But football is a different world.

As talks dragged on, insiders have commented on how Boehly has approached it with what they called a baseball mentality, with the Dodgers owner trying to find the best deal in every situation and open to trading players. His argument was that if Inter really wanted Lukaku then they should do a trade. A number of players were mentioned in discussions including Milan Skriniar, Denzel Dumfries and Alessandro Bastoni but Inter were not interested.

Once the reality of the situation hit home, it was all about the size of the fee and Lukaku’s wages. Boehly eventually agreed to Lukaku’s departure for a loan fee of around 9 6.9 million plus add-ons.

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Boehly took charge of negotiations with Inter Milan over Lukaku’s loan deal (Photo: Ash Donelon / Manchester United via Getty Images)

It was important for the club to clarify Granovskaia’s situation this week because it had been causing a bit of uncertainty and confusion beforehand.

For example, one agent who represents a Chelsea player are interested in buying revealed how she and Petr Cech, Chelsea’s technical and performance advisor, had been unusually elusive for a few weeks. Despite leaving messages for the two of them to discuss possibilities, there was radio silence. It left the impression they were not as fully involved as before.

It also caused frustration because intermediaries were unsure who to talk to about a possible move. This individual was not the only agent to feel this way.

When the call back finally came, it is understood Granovskaia implied that the new owners were “doing their own thing” and that different people were doing different things at different times.

This may have been in reference to the fact Boehly has been doing a lot of traveling, visiting Berlin in Germany, Portugal and spending time back in the US. Now that it has been confirmed she is going, the representative feels the way she was talking was indicative of someone who did not think they were going to be in situ for long.

It was notable that Boehly and Eghbali represented Chelsea at the Premier League annual meeting a fortnight ago in north Yorkshire rather than Buck, too. It was a great opportunity for them to meet representatives of the other clubs face to face.

Granovskaia was still making business calls at this point, giving the impression that she was still on duty. But another player’s agent talked about meeting with Granovskaia recently and noticing something was different. She no longer came across as someone calling the shots, as if there was a boss to answer to for the first time. The 47-year-old was employed by Abramovich before but the Russian multi-billionaire trusted her to run the club on a daily basis and gave her a lot of say.

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Granovskaia’s influence waned quickly after the takeover (Photo: Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Granovskaia is well-known in the industry so it makes sense that as part of news confirming her departure the club revealed the divorce is not immediate. They added: “Chelsea FC and Ms. Granovskaia have agreed that she will remain available to Boehly and the Club for the duration of the current transfer window, to the extent required to support the transition. ”

Boehly has continued to be busy telephoning personnel from other clubs, partly to introduce himself and also to discuss transfer targets. Tuchel has been on holiday in Italy lately but before he left, they spent a lot of time with each other discussing their plans and players to pursue.

The businessman was in London for most of last month to conclude the takeover. But it also gave him the opportunity to see the men’s, women’s and academy teams in action, plus engage with the respective coaching staff.

There was a get-together following the final game of the men’s season against Watford. Boehly’s relationship with Tuchel, who delayed his holiday so they could work on things together, is already thought to be close, while Boehly has also met Neil Bath, the club’s head of youth development.

Boehly particularly admires the way Liverpool, who also have American owners, are run and wants to replicate it at Stamford Bridge. That means Tuchel will be given even more influence on transfer business, even though he already enjoyed a good bond in this regard with Granovskaia and Cech.

It is still not known what the latest developments mean for Cech’s position or whether he will stay even if the club want him to. Chief executive Guy Laurence had already decided to bring his four-year tenure to an end.

Boehly has dealt with other issues head-on, too.

Many supporters welcomed the board’s decision regarding ticket prices, which were announced earlier this month. General admission prices have been frozen, booking fees removed and prices in the new Westview hospitality section reduced by 25 per cent more than was originally planned.

We will continue to seek fan input as we plan for next season and the years ahead, ”said Boehly. “Our mission is to create the best fan experience in football.”

Part-time staff have also had their wages paid after some delays. Money has been put into the club with Companies House, United Kingdom’s registrar of companies, showing over £ 61 million (May 26) and £ 100 million (June 1) of new shares were allotted.

Boehly is a big believer in analytics, especially when it comes to recruiting players, and there is a determination to hire aggressively in the data science space. It is thought he wants to bring six to eight people on board.

No doubt the fans would like to hear more from Boehly himself. As much as they revere Abramovich for all the success he brought over 19 years, communication was in short supply.

Since taking over, the only talking on the record Boehly has done was at the SuperReturn International conference in Berlin last week. He did seem to be managing expectations regarding this transfer window by saying: “Financial fair play is starting to get some teeth and that will limit ability to acquire players at any price.

Chelsea


Boehly spoke at a conference in Berlin (Photo: Visionhaus / Getty Images)

“UEFA takes it seriously and will continue to take it seriously. (More teeth) means financial penalties and disqualification from sporting competitions. ”

But reassuringly for the fanbase, he did not have any interest in Chelsea being part of a European Super League. One attendee also said that Boehly wants the training ground at Cobham to be used less for commercial activity so the players can concentrate on their football.

That is not to say making money is not a focus. The Athletic reported last month that Boehly and others in the consortium feel that Abramovich did not fully maximize the potential of marketing Chelsea abroad and building the club into an even bigger brand.

But he clearly thinks it’s a general failing of football in England and sees himself as being able to help everyone benefit more.

As he added at the SuperReturn International conference: “We think the global footprint of this sport is really undeveloped. There are four billion fans of European football. There are 170 million fans of the NFL. Global club football is a fraction of the NFL media money.

“We are also going to be thinking about, how do we get more revenue for the players? If you look at LeBron James, for example, he has a whole business and a whole team dedicated to what’s not on the court.

“So I think there is an opportunity to capture some of that American mentality into English sports and really develop them.”

Chelsea supporters will only be concerned with what he can do for their club. It’s early days and he is taking a lot on without having years of knowledge in the game to lean on. But if he does fall short, it won’t be due to a lack of effort.

(Photos: Getty Images; graphic: Sam Richardson)

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