Chelsea's spending spree, FFP and the real European Super League
The January transfer window set several records in the Premier League, with Chelsea's eye-watering spending spree sending shock waves across the football world.
Todd Boehly's takeover last year resulted in major acquisitions ahead of the start of this season, including Raheem Sterling, Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly, but it is the mid-season business that has really thrust the club under the spotlight.
Chelsea's spending has split the footballing world down the middle, with some concerned by the outlay and what it means for Financial Fair Play (FFP), while others praised the club's hierarchy for their determination and ambition.
Here, break down the Blues' activity, the controversies and FFP impact, as well as the vast differences to Europe's other top leagues.
Eight new faces arrived at Stamford Bridge in the mid-season window, seven of which were permanent signings, and all of whom were aged 23 or under.
Chelsea's business shows a focus on the future, having paid a premium price for talent and potential rather than established stars – the exception perhaps being Atletico Madrid loanee Joao Felix.
Capped 28 times by Portugal, Joao Felix was a statement addition until the end of the season with the hope he can provide the cutting edge Chelsea have lacked in the final third and push the club back into the hunt for Champions League football.
The other seven additions, however, fit a different mould. While they will likely be utilised by Graham Potter this season, they all represent a relatively unknown quantity, despite some impressive feats.
In the record-breaking deal to sign Enzo Fernandez from Benfica, Chelsea paid a fee higher than a British club ever has previously to bring in the Argentine, who was named young player of the tournament in his nation's World Cup-winning campaign.
Yet he does not even have a full year of European football under his belt, with the situation similar for Mykhaylo Mudryk – a player who caught the eye with his Champions League displays, but one who has not featured in a top domestic league.
In total, Chelsea reportedly spent more than £280million on Fernandez, Mudryk, Benoit Badiashile, Noni Madueke, Malo Gusto, Andrey Santos and David Datro Fofana.
Only two, Badiashile and Gusto, were signed from one of Europe's top-five European leagues, and Ligue 1 is widely considered to be the weakest financially compared to the Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A and Bundesliga.
While the figures spent have led to scrutiny, a bigger cause of controversy is the apparent exploitation of a loophole in FFP regulations by issuing long-term deals to spread the fees across several years of financial reports.
According to reports, the Chelsea hierarchy believe they are the first to exploit a football transfer market weakness in the valuation of younger players and with the length of contracts given to signings.
Amortisation of the fees spent in the January window has allowed Chelsea to spread the costs of their spending spree for budgetary purposes across the next eight seasons and beyond, handing out contracts with lengths that have rarely, if ever, been seen before.
Mudryk penned an eight-and-a-half-year deal at Stamford Bridge, tying him down beyond 2030, with similar deals issued to the rest of their January additions.
In fact, the shortest contract issued by the Blues was the six-year deal for striker Fofana, running until 2029, and even that is longer than most of the rest of the Premier League teams have handed new signings last month.
To put how it works into context, the majority of Chelsea's spending spree in excess of £280m will be spread across eight years, resulting in an annual cost of just £35m.
Chelsea can easily offset that cost with player sales which, unlike transfer fees for purchased players, are booked immediately into the financial records in one lump sum – and Potter has a number within his squad who could be sold at the end of the campaign.
This approach, crucially, is not against FFP regulations but UEFA has reportedly identified the loophole and are shifting the goalposts in future by setting a five-year limit for FFP – although this would not change things hugely.
If Chelsea's £280m spree was spread across five years, it would equate to £56m a year. Again, that is a fee the Blues can offset with player sales, TV revenue and sponsorship deals.
On top of this, from 2023-24, the allowable loss limit in FFP will be doubled from €30m (£26.6m) to €60m (£53.2m), while clubs judged to be in good financial health will be granted a further €30m in allowable losses over a three-year period.
That means that Chelsea could be permitted to lose as much as €90m (£80m) over three years, triple the old limit.
The most eye-catching fact from the January window is that Chelsea spent more than the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A and LaLiga combined – as well as spending more than the other 19 clubs in the Premier League.
Spending in England dwarfed that on the continent, with a reported outlay of over £800m from the Premier League compared to £110m in Ligue 1, £60m in the Bundesliga, £25m in Serie A and £25m in LaLiga.
While Chelsea's spending made up the majority of the Premier League figures, the divide between English football and the other top leagues in Europe is highlighted by spending elsewhere in the league.
Four of the bottom five clubs in the Premier League spent a reported total of £175m on new players, a figure that eclipses the total spending from any of Europe's other top five leagues.
European clubs, to put it simply, cannot compete. Brighton and Hove Albion staved off bids in excess of £70m for Moises Caicedo and it is difficult to imagine a similar situation had such a figure been offered to a side on the continent amid the current economic climate in football.
The biggest difference is that Premier League sides can afford to take risks and fail in the market, whereas those in Europe have no choice but to be more shrewd in their spending or suffer huge consequences – just take a look at Barcelona.
English clubs, meanwhile, can simply cut ties if things do not work out. Chelsea spent a reported £97.5m to sign Romelu Lukaku, only to loan him to Inter just a year later, while Timo Werner arrived from RB Leipzig in 2020 for a reported £45m and returned to the Bundesliga side last year for almost half that fee.
Chelsea are not alone in that regard. Arsenal's club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, signed for a reported £72m, is spending the season on loan at Nice, Tottenham's club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele is similarly outcast and Paul Pogba left Manchester United for nothing after the club paid a reported £89.5m to capture him from Juventus.
Two years ago, football rallied against the creation of a European Super League but the reality is it already exists – it's just known by a different name.