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Todd Boehly, Chelsea FC, and the curse of the American sports owner

Chelsea FC of the English Premier League are one of the world’s top association football clubs, having won six English titles and two Champions League titles. One of England’s “power six” clubs, Chelsea owes a lot of their success to former owner and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. All but one of Chelsea’s English titles came after Abramovich’s acquisition of the team in 2003.

However, after a long and successful tenure, Abramovich was forced to hand off team ownership in April of 2022, to Chelsea’s current owner, Todd Boehly, after Abramovich’s illicit links to Vladimir Putin were exposed. 

A wealthy American businessman, Boehly is the current owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball, where he is renowned for his willingness to spend big money for big names rather than focusing on in-house development.

Boehly’s aggressive, bank-breaking philosophy has applied to his so-far brief ownership tenure of Chelsea as well. Since the end of last season, Boehly has spent an equivalent of just over $330 million on transfers, as well as firing club manager Thomas Tuchel, which was a controversial decision. 

Many Boehly detractors see Tuchel’s firing as Boehly’s attempt to replace him with a yes-man. In this case, Graham Potter, a former Premier League player and manager for Brighton Hove-Albion, is the appointed puppet. 

Tuchel’s firing was not entirely unexpected, however, as Boehly had witnessed firsthand multiple players who felt emotionally alienated by Tuchel in the final months of his tenure. 

Currently, Chelsea sit at No. 9 on the Premier League table, which is frankly embarrassing for one of England’s top clubs, who expect perennial success. This disappointing season, including a pathetic draw against Nottingham Forest to kick off the new calendar year, has been empirical evidence that all of these drastic and impulsive changes have not led to success for Chelsea. 

One of Boehly’s most frequently criticized decisions since his arrival is the approval of striker Romelu Lukaku to go out on loan to Inter Milan. While Lukaku’s relationship with Chelsea was certainly in question, the 29-year-old was Chelsea’s most prolific offensive piece, and losing him has spelled doom for a team who already struggled to score consistently. Chelsea as a club has only scored 22 goals on the season; that’s three fewer than Erling Haaland, an individual human being.

While it could be said that Boehly’s efforts have set Chelsea back, you cannot say he’s been too frugal. In fact, the consensus is that Boehly consistently overpays for middling talent, who don’t fit into Chelsea’s scheme and rarely produce to the level they are expected to. 

It appears that Boelhy is deaf to the public outcry, as Chelsea has just finalized an over $21.5 million deal with Olympique Lyonnais for young defender Malo Gusto, only to send him straight back on loan. It seems Boehly and Potter are intent to continue spending big to attempt to plug holes in the sinking vessel rather than address purported issues in team culture and the team’s struggle to score goals. 

While Chelsea fans may be frustrated with recent developments, not all is lost. Boehly’s tenure as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers has proven to be extremely successful. Only time will tell if that American big-buyer mentality will eventually pan out in the world of association football.

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