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Rivals seek to profit from Chelsea’s fire sale

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – Chelsea have embarked on a fire sale following their stunning spending spree, trimming their bloated squad in an effort to comply with financial regulations as they prepare for a new era under Mauricio Pochettino.

In their first year under the ownership of an American consortium, Chelsea spent more on transfer fees than any club has ever done in a 12-month period, only to finish 12th in the Premier League – their lowest placing since 1994.

The arrival of RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku this week has added to the outlay of more than GBP500 million (USD635 million).

But most of Chelsea’s business is focussed on departures, with key players in the squad that won the Champions League just two years ago set to leave.

France midfielder N’Golo Kante has already said his goodbyes to join a wave of star footballers heading to Saudi Arabia, with other Chelsea players expected to follow him.

N’Golo Kante has completed a move to Saudi Arabian champions Al-Ittihad. PHOTO: AP

A potential influx of Saudi cash could prove vital to Chelsea’s chances of complying with the Premier League’s financial fair play (FFP) rules.

Clubs are allowed a maximum loss of GBP105 million over a three-year period, with deductions allowed for spending on infrastructure, youth and women’s football.

Chelsea looked set to be well over that limit, having posted GBP275 million worth of losses in the final two years of Roman Abramovich’s reign, even before LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and private equity group Clearlake Capital took charge.

Some of the club’s new signings last season such as Enzo Fernandez and Mykhailo Mudryk were handed eight-year deals to minimise the impact of their transfer fees on the books.

For FFP purposes, transfer fees are spread over the number of years of the contract.

By contrast, sales can be registered in full as soon as they are completed and Chelsea are in a rush to get business done before the end of football’s financial year on June 30.

A number of Chelsea’s Premier League rivals are circling, keen to take advantage of cut-price deals.

Croatia international Mateo Kovacic is on the verge of joining English champions Manchester City for an initial GBP25 million.

England’s Mason Mount is the subject of serious interest from Manchester United, with just 12 months left on his deal at Stamford Bridge.

Germany forward Kai Havertz is close to joining London rivals Arsenal for GBP65 million, while Marc Cucurella could reportedly join Newcastle for around half the GBP60 million he cost Chelsea to sign from Brighton year.

Saudi interest in Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Hakim Ziyech is making waves.

All three found themselves out of favour last season and getting their wages off the books along with receiving a significant transfer fee would come as a blessing.

Business links between the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Clearlake have resulted in accusations of a conflict of interest.

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville has called for an embargo on transfers from Premier League clubs to Saudi to “ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged”.

However, the Premier League reportedly investigated any links between Chelsea’s ownership group and the PIF at the time of last year’s takeover and was apparently happy there was no conflict.

The hard work in transforming Chelsea’s fortunes on the field, though, still lies ahead for Pochettino on his return to English football.

The club’s hierarchy are banking on the Argentine to develop the abundance of young talent at his disposal, much like he did as Tottenham boss between 2014 and 2019.

But the competition at the top of the Premier League is even tougher now with PIF-backed Newcastle joining the traditional top six of City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in the battle for Champions League places.

And Chelsea’s reckless splurge over the past year could end up strengthening their rivals should Havertz, Mount and Kovacic go on to shine at their new clubs.

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