Indeed, according to calculations made by The Independent last year, the Blues’ owner spent over £2billion during his first decade at Stamford Bridge, and until Angel di Maria’s arrival at Manchester United this summer, the west London club held the British record transfer fee – their ill-fated £50million investment in Fernando Torres.
Whilst also acquiring Ramires, David Luiz and Yossi Benayoun, that season, the 2010/11 campaign, was Chelsea’s second-most expensive to date in terms of inward transfers, with an overall spend of £96million. It was only trumped by the £125million spent in Roman Abramovich’s first year at Stamford Bridge.
But Torres’ sorry tale, his painful transformation from a world-class striker at Liverpool into a running joke at Stamford Bridge, taught Chelsea something drastically important; money can only get you so far in the Premier League.
That may seem counter-intuitive when the two favourites for the title this year, Chelsea and Manchester City, are two clubs that bought their way to greatness from relative mediocrity. But City struggled after winning their first Premier League title, which had cost them a cumulative total of £1billion on transfers, as they lacked the coherency and character to retain English football’s top prize. It took a new manager in Manuel Pellegrini, who has spent £155million in just three transfer windows at the Etihad, to find another recipe for success.
Likewise, Roman Abramovich’s cash-laden reign has added eleven trophies to Chelsea’s silverware cabinet, but in truth, with an intrinsic core of world-class players, many of whom are home-grown, remaining intact throughout, that haul should be considerably more.
Unprecedented spending only leads to further unprecedented spending, and that’s an unhealthy cycle Chelsea don’t want to get trapped in. As Jose Mourinho revealed earlier this month: “Chelsea in this moment is not a spender – Chelsea in this moment is making more money in transfers than the money we spend,” a far cry from the days of ‘Cashley Cole’ and the ‘Chel$ki’ moniker in the tabloids. He also declared the Blues will never break Angel di Maria’s £59million transfer fee.
Not that Chelsea are unwilling to splash the cash – they spent over £80million this summer – the third-most of any Premier League side.
Yet the difference in tone is crucial. In the past, Chelsea’s signings were decadent and vain; did they really need to buy Andriy Shevchenko for £30million when they already had Didier Drogba? Did they need to buy Fernando Torres directly from a divisional rival when foreign talent available at the time was undoubtedly cheaper? Even less lucrative deals, such as Deco for £8million and Shaun Wright-Phillips for £21million in 2005, Yuri Zhirkov for £18million in 2009, or Oscar for £25million in 2012, were rather overzealous.
Compare that to the situation now, where Jose Mourinho has brought in Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis this summer whilst still pocketing a small profit. It may be through necessity rather than design, with the Chelsea gaffer admitting that Financial Fair Play limits the west London outfit’s financial prowess in comparison to both Manchester clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but nonetheless, the wholesale change in opinion at Stamford Bridge should not be overlooked.
Of course, financial wealth remains important to any club targeting the top accolades in English football; after all, the Premier League is the most lucrative top flight in the world. Even Liverpool spent £50million last summer before staging an audacious, unexpected charge for the Premiership title.
But Chelsea have learned that it’s how you spend, rather than how much you spend, which really makes the difference. As long as their consistency of silverware is maintained, the Blues know that even whilst operating on limited budgets, they’ll be able to attract top talents to the club. The rest is all a matter of patience and spotting transfer opportunities, such as Cesc Fabregas’ exit from the Nou Camp as Barcelona welcomed new management, or Diego Costa’s £32million release clause at Atletico Madrid, before somebody else does.
The Premier League used to be a simple enough equation – spend enough, and you’ll eventually get what you want. But Chelsea are proving, amid a season in which they possess, arguably, the most fearsome starting XI in the league in which even clubs outside the Premier League’s top four can spend £110million in the space of a single transfer window, that value-for-money is what truly rules supreme.
It’s an integral lesson for the Premier League’s original financial powerhouse – the first English club whose reputation at top level was built almost solely on the power of a billionaire’s purse. And following a summer where both sides of Manchester spent a combined £200million, it’s Chelsea who are now setting the example to follow.