How Chelsea and Manchester City became kings of player sales in the Big Six – Never before has there been a run of sales like the one that Chelsea have just signed off. Six players offloaded and £193 million ($245m) banked, all inside 10 money-spinning days.
Mason Mount’s move to Manchester United, announced on Wednesday, added a full stop to a rush of business that saw Kalidou Koulibaly, Mateo Kovacic, Edouard Mendy, Kai Havertz and Ruben Loftus-Cheek all depart Stamford Bridge before new manager Mauricio Pochettino had taken his first training session.
The exodus would have been greater still had Hakim Ziyech’s proposed move to Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr not collapsed late in the day, but a clearing of the decks has already taken this summer to new ground.
The Premier League has never known one of its clubs to raise so much money so quickly. For all there were eyebrows raised at the source of the sudden income, with the exits of Koulibaly and Mendy reliant on big money from Saudi Arabia with moves to Al Hilal and Al Ahli respectively, Chelsea have helped offset their vast £440million net spend — which is the total of transfer fees received from player sales subtracted from the total spend on players purchased — of last season and this summer’s signings of attackers Christopher Nkunku and Nicolas Jackson.
There is likely to be more, too. If they attract buyers, players such as Romelu Lukaku, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Marc Cucurella, Ethan Ampadu and Ian Maatsen could realistically take Chelsea’s summer’s eventual sales up towards £300million.
Sure, they still know how to write big cheques better than anyone, but Chelsea continue to be English football’s greatest salesman year after year.
This is a club that has now received transfer fees totalling £1.16billion since 2013-14 — and in four of the last seven seasons, they have been able to raise more than £100million in player sales. Liverpool and Arsenal have not managed that since 2017-18 and Tottenham Hotspur since 2013-14. It is a feat that remains beyond Manchester United.
Chelsea’s net spend — £500million in the last decade —
ensures there is no need to shower them with garlands, but it is their ability to top up the club’s balance that means they are still in a position to keep buying as they do.
This summer merely continues a pattern. Like the 2021-22 season, when Tammy Abraham, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi were sold to raise north of £100million. Or the summer of 2019, when the Eden Hazard chips were cashed in at just the right time when a deal was struck with Real Madrid. The add-ons triggered since make that deal the greatest in Chelsea’s history.
The 2017-18 season, until now, had been the biggest of all, when Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Nathan Ake and Juan Cuadrado were among those moved on to raise in the region of £160million inside a year. Sales funding buys — supplementing the huge investments of former owner Roman Abramovich.
Only Manchester City can claim to have come close to Chelsea’s record for player sales in the last five years. The last two summers, in particular, have seen big departures offsetting the cost of ambitious recruitment drives. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ferran Torres were all allowed to leave across two summers to raise close to £140million.
Selling players for big money sounds easy enough but there are others in the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ that have consistently struggled where Chelsea typically succeed.
Like United, a club that has banked just £60million in the last three years and has only faint hopes of bucking the trend this summer.
Or Arsenal, whose own pivot in spending habits is yet to be countered by player sales. Expect it to change at the Emirates Stadium this summer, with Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney and Folarin Balogun all facing uncertain futures. But Arsenal have so far recouped a fraction of the money spent since 2021.
Tottenham are another. The £25million received for the sale of Steven Bergwijn to Ajax last summer, broadly covering the initial investment when signing the winger from PSV Eindhoven, was the biggest transfer out of Spurs since Kyle Walker was sold to Manchester City in 2017 for £45million. Brighton & Hove Albion, the club so many others aspire to be, have sold players for three times the amount that Tottenham have in the last two years.
Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham could all have embellished those recent records with the sale of their stars but, generally speaking, that is not what Chelsea have been reliant on. Not since Hazard joined Madrid, anyway.
Mount and Havertz have both been big players in successful Chelsea teams but the bulk of their sales in recent times have been, like at Manchester City, the offloading of players they no longer want around. The fringe players — but those still with value. For all the criticisms sent the way of Todd Boehly and Clearlake, the club’s U.S. owners, they have picked up where the old regime left off.
Manchester United have consistently faltered in their attempts to ship players out. There was Dan James sold to Leeds in 2021 and Chris Smalling to Roma a year before, but United do not often sell well. They instead see big investments, like Paul Pogba, leave on free transfers. David de Gea might well end up being another.
It is why Manchester United have privately accepted this summer that there are financial fair play (FFP) limitations holding them back. The last three years, according to Transfermarkt, have seen a net spend of £472million at Old Trafford. Chelsea have spent more, of course, but for the same period now have a net outlay of £411million. Go back a decade and the contrast is sharper still: United’s £1.06 billion versus Chelsea’s £518million.
That decade, importantly, has seen Chelsea make £700million in player-sale profits, according to the club’s accounts, income that directly benefits FFP calculations. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire says that United generated just £132million in the same period. A fifth of their rivals. And that was before this summer’s sales.
It is Chelsea’s impressive academy that has made a lot of this possible. Loftus-Cheek and Mount are the fourth and fifth homegrown graduates sold for more than £10million since 2021.
Together with the departures of Abraham, Tomori and Guehi, that quintet has been worth just shy of £150million. All of that goes down as profit, too, for those FFP boundaries that have been pushed inside the last 12 months. The countless loans and the fees involved would also have been beneficial along the way.
United have not used the system to their benefit in the same way. James Garner’s move to Everton last summer, potentially worth up to £15million, was as big a fee received for an academy graduate since Danny Welbeck joined Arsenal for £16million in 2014.
Manchester City are almost becoming as effective as Chelsea in that department. The proposed sale of goalkeeper James Trafford, who has never played a senior game for City, to Burnley for up to £19million is a continuation of a trend. This was set last summer with the sales of Gavin Bazunu, Romeo Lavia, Samuel Edozie and Juan Larios to Southampton for almost £40million.
The reality is that this has to be the way for Chelsea, of course, if they wish to continue spending as lavishly as they do.
The club’s turnover for last season was £100million less than Manchester United and £110million behind Liverpool. Manchester City’s revenues, meanwhile, were £140million more. Matchday revenues at Stamford Bridge are the lowest of the Big Six, while commercial income now lags behind Spurs. Player sales have become an effective means of keeping up and bridging the shortfall.
Chelsea’s financial model, perhaps more so than any other club in the Big Six, is reliant on transfer money coming into Stamford Bridge. It has to be a two-way street. Almost four times as much has been recouped through player sales compared with Arsenal in the last decade and over three times as much as Manchester United. Sales matter.
Chelsea might have comfortably spent more than any other Premier League club last season but the business of this summer is a reminder that there is still no one that sells players like they do.