World-class signings and an all-new Stamford Bridge — inside Todd Boehly’s billion-dollar plans for Chelsea

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 (Evening Standard comp)
(Evening Standard comp)

The £4.15 billion purchase of Chelsea FC has put its new owners on football’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

A short drive from the famous Los Angeles street which has paving stone tributes to the stars of film and entertainment, the new era at Chelsea is getting underway in earnest.

Last night, with the Blues in LA on their pre-season tour of the US, Chelsea announced the £47.5 million signing of England star Raheem Sterling from rivals Manchester City. Sterling becomes the best-paid player at Chelsea, on more than £300,000 a week, and his transfer is just the start of a new dawn for the club.

New owners Todd Boehly and US investment firm Clearlake Capital have committed to spend £1.75bn over the next 10 years after securing the biggest-ever deal for a sports team. The consortium that completed a takeover from Roman Abramovich in May is redefining what the club looks like — both inside and out.

For 19 years under Abramovich, Chelsea was a closed shop at the top. The Russian oligarch loathed publicity, gave no interviews and let his executives run the club on a day-to-day basis. Money was no object and his hire-and-fire approach to managers yielded the most successful period in the history of the west London club.

Boehly and Clearlake Capital want to continue to challenge for the biggest trophies but they want to do things differently as they bid to return Chelsea to the top of English football.

American billionaire Boehly, the man with aviator sunglasses, a shaggy mop of hair and chino trousers that are often matched with Converse trainers, has instantly become one of the most famous faces in English football.

Chelsea owner Todd Boehly (Getty Images)
Chelsea owner Todd Boehly (Getty Images)

Described by the president of his LA Dodgers baseball team as an “aggressive” businessman and a committed winner, he is the new Chelsea co-owner, chairman and, for now, chief transfer negotiator.

Clearlake Capital founders Behdad Eghbali and Jose Feliciano are other prominent members of the new Chelsea ownership but Boehly has taken centre stage.

Forbes lists his personal wealth at $4.5bn. The 48-year-old has spent much of his first 45 days as Chelsea co-owner on his private jet, flying around Europe to speak to the biggest agents in the game and negotiating transfers personally after taking on the day-to-day running of the club following the high-profile departures of chairman Bruce Buck and director Marina Granovskaia.

After finalising theSterling deal, Chelsea want to buy defenders Nathan Ake and Kalidou Koulibaly to continue their summer transfer spending. Boehly held talks with Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes in Portugal last month, but a move for the Manchester United star is unlikely.

Boehly is currently in the US with Chelsea on their pre-season tour as he puts in place his vision for the club.

The former high-school wrestler knows Chelsea currently lag behind Manchester United on commercial revenues, Liverpool on their data-driven approach and Manchester City for the sophistication of their football operation.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel during a training session at Drake Stadium UCLA Campus (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel during a training session at Drake Stadium UCLA Campus (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

He wants German manager Thomas Tuchel to be at the heart of the future. Tuchel has been given more say over transfers and will be the most powerful Chelsea manager since Jose Mourinho.

Boehly and Clearlake Capital want to close the gap on Liverpool and City next season, but they also want to put in place statistical models about how to win over a longer period.

The way Boehly has run the LA Dodgers shows an approach that will be followed in a new corporate culture at Chelsea. The aim is to be world-class in every area of the club.

They trust Chelsea Women manager Emma Hayes with their women’s team and want Neil Bath to lead the club’s youth academy. They also want in-person scouts, data analysts and to give more responsibility to coaching staff. A new board has been appointed and the departure of Granovskaia leaves the new owners facing a baptism of fire to rebuild the Chelsea squad in time for the start of the new season in August.

Dubbed the most powerful woman in football, Granovskaia had effectively run the club for Abramovich for almost a decade. It was always unlikely that Granovskaia, whose close professional ties with Abramovich date back 20 years, would retain the same level of power under the new regime. But initially it was expected that she and Buck would remain in their roles during a transition period.

That plan changed and the departures of one of Abramovich’s closest aides, which is a blow in the short term, does offer Boehly and Clearlake Capital the chance of a fresh start. Boehly has taken over transfer negotiations until a new sporting director is appointed.

Alongside Eghbali and Feliciano, there is further Clearlake Capital representation on the board in James Pade. From Europe, there is Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, a long-time investment partner of Boehly, along with UK investor Jonathan Goldstein, who is leading on a future stadium redevelopment project.

It will be a monumental task to rebuild Stamford Bridge, which is in dire need of work. Boehly made more than £200m worth of improvements to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and has appointed architect Janet Marie Smith, who has worked on a host of stadium renovations in the US, including Oriole Park, Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium, the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park and the Dodger Stadium. The redevelopment of Stamford Bridge is a mid-term project that needs time and thought, but eventually the stadium will be worked on.

New signing Raheem Sterling with Chelsea co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
New signing Raheem Sterling with Chelsea co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

It was the last infrastructure job left by Abramovich and the size of Stamford Bridge holds Chelsea back on untapped revenues. Even in the short term, there could be tweaks to the current ground to improve the matchday experience.

The board carries supporter insight, with long-time season ticket holders advising on many issues. Daniel Finkelstein, a Times columnist and member of the House of Lords, and Barbara Charone, a music PR executive, have been appointed directors.

Boehly gave the green light for misfiring striker Romelu Lukaku to leave on loan to Inter Milan just a year after Chelsea spent a club-record £97.5m to sign him last summer. Lukaku was the final extravagant Abramovich transfer that went wrong and was also a sign that Boehly is backing manager Tuchel, who wanted Lukaku gone after his miserable season in front of goal last season.

Chelsea have not been English champions since they won the Premier League title in 2017, although they conquered Europe to win the Champions League in 2021.

Chelsea and England midfielder Mason Mount is excited about the future: “It’s an unknown but the way it’s started it’s really exciting to see what’s going to happen. We’re a team that over the last 10 years has been up there and pushing and that is where we want to stay. Speaking to them about their goals and aims, we’re on the same page.”

Mason Mount (Getty Images)
Mason Mount (Getty Images)

Chelsea have also not fully capitalised on sponsorship revenue, with opportunities to do so in the women’s game and digital media space. They were reluctant to let Amazon film a behind the scenes with their men’s team, watching Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham take those opportunities instead.

Boehly has promised all employees that there will be sweeping changes following allegations of a toxic environment in the club’s marketing team. He sent a letter to staff saying there will be a zero-tolerance approach to bullying after it emerged that Richard Bignell, a former head of Chelsea TV, had taken his own life in January.

Boehly has already experienced selfies with obsessed supporters during his first game at Stamford Bridge in May. He was also chased by Spanish press during a recent trip to Barcelona for transfer talks and has faced countless transfer leaks. It has not soured the enjoyment but the psychodrama of the sport will punish them with the wrath of their support and ridicule from rivals should they fail.

Nothing beats the high drama of football, not US sport or perhaps even Hollywood. Welcome to the bright lights of the Premier League, Boehly and Clearlake Capital.

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