First, if you haven't yet, take a gander at these two excellent pieces by the ever brilliant Jake Cohen. The first discusses how the current state of our books and the new Yokohama money afforded us the opportunity to spend roughly £130 million this summer. The second is an exposé on the financial situation of the Premier League (spoiler alert: English clubs have more money than you can imagine). Together, both give you a pretty clear picture of what the transfer market is doing, going to do, and what our role in it can (should?) be. I'll summarize it thusly: Chelsea are very capable of spending massive amount of money without violating FFP, and nothing indicates the rapid inflation of player value is going to slow any time soon. Put these two facts together, along with the notion that we don't have a flawless or deep squad, and I think you have to reach the conclusion that Chelsea have hurt themselves to not invest heavily during this transfer window.
Jake is already making the case that CFC messed up by not getting their business done early on, however, I believe his research readily supports another argument: Chelsea folded too soon in the pursuit of John Stones and Paul Pogba. When a player is running out the last year or so of his contract, you might be able to secure a deal, but paying over a player's value can still be a good deal over the course of a career, if the player is young and turns out well. It's easy to point the example of Messi and say that if Chelsea went back in time and spent £50 million to bring a 16 year old Messi to the club, it would be more than money well spent, it would be a hell of a deal. That's obvious, right? The reason why we don't have the opportunity to do this (other than not owning a time machine), is because we don't know for sure when a kid is 16 just how good they'll be.
So when they're in their early twenties, and they've already proven themselves to be world class, what do you pay? Well, let's look at another, better example. Cristiano Ronaldo, who is now 30 years old, is ever present in the conversation of the beautiful game's best. What price would he fetch now? Given his age, maybe not the roughly £80 million Manchester United were paid for him to head to Madrid, but maybe not far off it. In fact, there were rumours that PSG made a bid of £110m for the Portuguese prima donna, but I'm not sure how much credence I'm willing to give that. So a player could play for six years with a club and not lose value, because he is uber talented, a big name, and the market inflation simply stays ahead of natural depreciation? Following this logic (and you don't have to, mind, but I believe the syllogisms to be justified), Pogba could cost nearly £80 million this summer, and we'd still be able to sell him on after 6-7 years without net spend of a cent (outside of his ludicrous wages, naturally). Now of course the accounting isn't as plain and simple as all that, but Chelsea will not see a better price for Pogba in the next 3 seasons. In fact, with the money being made in the new TV deal, I would expect Pogba to go for more than the purported £70m that Juve supposedly wanted for him.
Let's look at John Stones as well, to round out this perspective. Here is a player who is clearly talented, and although less proven at the top level, he does have experience (and success) at a position of need in our very same league. How much will a young, talented homegrown centerback cost in 3 years? The 27 year-old Otamendi could cost City £32m at the high end this summer. It's worth mentioning that Stones is a good bet to be better than Otamendi over the course of their respective careers in the EPL. £40m pounds, then? The only reason Stones may cost less in the future is if he misbehaves or loses form. A cheaper price tag may be possible, but only at serious risk to the player's image and/or performance level. Even if Everton were able to hold on to him for another 2 seasons, and sell him in the last season of his contract, we'd likely be fighting to outbid multiple clubs with deep pockets, which would do little for getting us a bargain.
It sounds insane, but it's probable that the very best thing Chelsea could have done for themselves this summer was go all in for Stones and Pogba. I know that there are WAGNHers out there who don't agree. I've seen the comments, stating that they'd rather buy a cheaper player (Koke is often listed). As someone who's seen a transfer window or two, and can remember back to different eras in spending, I absolutely understand those perspectives. Thinking back to Lampard, who came in for just £11m* at the age of 23, it seems nuts to pay 8 times that much for a player of the same age. Those are some insane demands, until you place them in the context of the future financial situation that we'll be operating in. Just like Real Madrid's record-breaking transfer for Ronaldo, in hindsight, a mega-millions move for the Eiffel Tower would likely just appear to be damn good business.
* Ed. note: at the time, the £11m made Lampard our second most expensive signing of all-time, and was generally seen as not exactly the best piece of business ever.
That's what we're talking about here. Not nearly £40m for a teenager that's really only had one season of noteworthy performances in Ligue 1 (here's looking at you, Ed Woodward). Less than twice that much for a 22 year old player that had Zidane saying he could become one of the best in the world, and had the former Italian national team manager already hailing him as "the best midfielder in the world" over a year ago. This is low risk, high-reward, which is exactly why the player costs so much. Chelsea fans shouldn't be turning up their nose at the price tag here (if they want to do so at the Stones evaluation, there's a case to be made there). Instead, they should be licking their lips, grateful that someone as talented as he is at his tender age is even available. Already the price we paid for Hazard seems ludicrously cheap in comparison to what we've seen spent on less assured talent. But if we can cast our minds back to the time when Lampard was purchased, or even just so far as Hazard, we can recall fans and media alike chiding the Blues for emptying the bank.
This isn't bargain shopping, and it shouldn't be. We have the aim of being the best club in the world. If we are going to maintain that status, you can bet it won't be by pinching pennies.