Revealed - The true extent of Chelsea's cost cutting that looks certain to lead to Antonio Conte's exit
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has accused owner Roman Abramovich of pulling the plug on the club’s transfer spending - and now evidence of that austerity programme can be revealed.
At a time when Manchester’s super-clubs have blown their Premier League rivals into submission with extravagant transfer spending over the last four years, dethroned champions Chelsea have embarked on a cost cutting plan that looks set to see off another high-profile manager in the coming weeks.
As Conte prepares to take charge of what will almost certainly be his last Premier League game as Chelsea boss at Newcastle this afternoon, he will soon be reflecting on two years at the club that he believes was undermined by a dysfunctional transfer policy.
His predecessor Jose Mourinho shared those sentiments on a set-up overseen by Abramovich, his trusted aide Marina Granovskaia and Technical Director Michael Emenalo, who was a key figure until his sudden exit from the club last November.
Emenalo’s departure does not seem to have changed the dynamic at the top of Chelsea, with a long list of managers failing to influence the club’s transfer policy since Abramovich arrived in the summer of 2003.
Long gone are the days when Chelsea offered the biggest transfer fees and wages no-one else would match, with the balance sheet for transfer trading over the last four years giving a snapshot of a club now following a different course.
Chelsea have splashed out £547m on new signings since the summer of 2014, which is not far behind City’s recording-breaking outlay of £673.5m that has helped Pep Guardiola build an all-conquering title winning dream team.
The Premier League title success masterminded by Antonio Conte last season was reward for that investment by Chelsea, yet the figures serve up something of a mirage as the club’s net spend over the last four years is a mere £119m.
That represents a £29.75m net spend over the last four years when player sales are included and at a time when the Premier League is awash with cash from lucrative television deals, the figure highlight the scale of the cost-cutting plan ordered by Blues owner Roman Abramovich.
Arsenal, Everton and even Crystal Palace have had a bigger net spend on new players than Chelsea of late and that reality means the disastrous signings made by the Blues have proved to be so costly.
Back in the days when Chelsea were outspending their Premier League rivals at will, the club’s managers could hardly complain about their lack of input into the the capture of world class players.
That before a change in policy from Abramovich has altered the dynamics at the club in recent years, with Mourinho and Conte becoming frustrated outsiders looking in on the club’s misfiring player recruitment programme.
It is hard to provide definitive analysis on transfers in an era when transfer fees are rarely divulged to the public, yet Sky Sports figures suggest Chelsea are just the SIXTH biggest net transfer spenders in England’s top division since 2014.
The sale star names Oscar, Mohamed Salah, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa has ensured that Chelsea’s transfer budget has been financed by departures, with evidence of their change of approach came with the cut-price deals to sign Ross Barkley and Danny Drinkwater last summer.
There were suggestions that they also tried to sign strikers Premier League stalwarts Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll on loan, in deals that would have backed up Conte’s assertion Abramovich is in the midst of an an austerity programme.
This revised approach from the Chelsea owner has ensured that when the biggest players in world football are up for grabs, his club are no longer at the front of the queue to snap them up.
In their big-spending days, Chelsea would have been in the mix to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in last January’s transfer window, while the idea that Abramovich would be outspent in the chase of for Romelu Lukaku when he looked destined to return to Stamford Bridge last summer would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
Chelsea have gone from being the club setting transfer records to a club showing in the bargain buckets and those cutbacks may even have kept Conte in a job for longer than he might have expected.
The Italian who guided Chelsea to the Premier League title a year ago looked set to be sacked after a desperate 4-1 defeat at Watford in early February, with history suggesting a defeat of that magnitude on the back of a poor season would have been enough for Abramovich to wield the axe.
Instead, the increasingly grumpy Conte has been left to endure an uncomfortable wait before his exit, with the revised contract he signed last summer believed to include a clause that would ensure he is handed a £10m if he is dismissed before the end of this season.
Such is the friction between Conte and the club’s owners that they were unwilling to hand the Italian the cash windfall he would be due if he was sent packing in February and instead, they have allowed him to wriggle uncomfortably through the final few months of a season that is likely to end today with confirmation that Chelsea have finished fifth in the Premier League.
Not even a win in Saturday’s FA Cup final against Manchester United will save Conte’s job and the only question now is whether he walks from his post or, as expected, he waits to be sacked to seal that lavish windfall.
The next Chelsea manager will now be aware that he is joining a club unwilling to spend their way to success as they once did, with Mourinho and Conte the high-profile poster boys for Abramovich’s belated eagerness to embrace financial prudence.