N’Golo Kanté in the colors of Chelsea. Ruben Albarran / PANORAMIC
Several Chelsea players are joining Saudi Arabia this summer. What to ask about the links between the Monarchy Investment Fund and the owners of the Blues.
Why are so many Chelsea players suddenly leaving for Saudi Arabia? N’Golo Kanté has just signed with Al-Ittihad, Edouard Mendy is expected at Al-Hilal, Kalidou Koulibaly at Al-Ahli and Hakim Ziyech is close to joining Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nr. These sudden departures of Londoners towards the same championship do not seem to be a coincidence. They raise eyebrows about links between an English football club and the Saudi regime, and the question of timeshare in the same sport arises.
Two main problems emerge in the eyes of observers, British and foreign. First, there is the link between the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Clearlake Capital, a private equity firm. On May 28, 2022, Chelsea announced its acquisition by the “Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital Consortiumfor 4.95 billion euros. Clearlake, of which Boehly is a minority shareholder, owns around 60% of Chelsea according to The Athletic .
The PIF has bought the 4 Saudi clubs… which will host Chelsea players
But Clearlake doesn’t just deal with 12e of the Premier League. The firm manages nearly 70 billion euros in ets on behalf of 300 investors, as reported by the DailyMail as of August 2022. And several of these billions would have been invested by the PIF, “armed armof the Gulf monarchy which “serves to maintain the social contract in Saudi Arabia», explained Jean-Baptiste Guégan, specialist in the geopolitics of sport.
Todd Boehly, American businessman and owner of Chelsea for a year. JOHN SIBLEY / PANORAMIC
In early June, the PIF, led by Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman, got into local football. He became the majority owner of four clubs: Al-Hilal, Al-Ahli, Al-Nr and Al-Ittihad. By chance (or not), each of these clubs will welcome a Chelsea player this summer. Transfers which are real bargains for the English club.
If Kanté was at the end of the contract, this is not the case for the other three players, undesirable in an overloaded workforce. Their departures should allow Chelsea to take care of its finances, reduce its payroll and balance its accounts vis-à-vis financial fair play. With artificially inflated transfer prices? It is fear, while UEFA recently announced to be more attentive to capital gains disconnected from the market. PSG and Manchester City were pinned down a few years ago for dodgy sponsorship deals. The process would be slightly different, but for the same purpose.
The PIF owner of Newcastle… and Chelsea?
The other main problem is that of timeshare. Saudi Arabia do not directly control Chelsea, but their influence may be greater than it appears. This would be a concern since the PIF bought Newcastle in 2021 for more than 400 million euros. One and the same shareholder for two clubs in the same league is hard to imagine. Especially in the Premier League, where the arrival of the Saudis at the Magpies had already aroused strong protest.
So far, no transfer, loan or exchange of players has taken place between Chelsea and Newcastle. The shadow of a conflict of interest hovers. Chelsea, through the British press, denied any Saudi involvement in its takeover a year ago. The Blues are coming out of a calamitous season despite their mive investments and will not play in the European Cup in 2023-24. Newcastle, on the contrary, ranked 4e in the Premier League, synonymous with qualifying for the Champions League.