GRAEME SOUNESS: Boehly has had his trousers PULLED DOWN by Benfica

GRAEME SOUNESS: Todd Boehly has well and truly had his trousers PULLED DOWN by Benfica… no one ever pays the buyout clause for a player – except Chelsea with Enzo Fernandez

  • Chelsea signed Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez for a British record £107m 
  • I can’t quite believe Todd Boehly was forced into paying his full release clause 
  • It’s a big risk to take on someone who has barely played any games in Europe

If you are a small club without much money, struggling to make the sums add up, praying for someone to call and ask for one of your players, it is Chelsea you want to hear from right now.

They have just paid a British record £107million for Enzo Fernandez on the strength of a mere 29 games for Benfica and a part in Argentina’s World Cup winning team, with the first £40m up front.

Well, on the basis of my 18 months as manager of Benfica in the late Nineties, I can say without the remotest doubt that the boy’s limited experience in what the Portuguese call the Primeira Liga tells us very little about whether he will be capable of living up to that price tag or the intensity of the Premier League.

Benfica are the biggest club in Portugal and are simply not confronted every week by the fierce physical challenge Chelsea always get. The team are top by eight points and have lost just once all season. And as for the five games Fernandez started at the World Cup — the history of football is littered with clubs buying players after they have performed well in that tournament and getting it wrong.

You can never have absolute certainly when bringing in a player, whoever he might be. But you don’t want to pay out that kind of money without being as close to certain about him as you can be. He has to have what it takes, physically and mentally, to meet the challenge. Big players need a big ego and a great deal of confidence to get through a high-profile move like that.

Chelsea spent big on Enzo Fernandez despite the player only featuring 29 times for Benfica

I can’t quite believe Benfica president Rui Costa (above) got them to splash all that money

I certainly didn’t feel nerves when I drove up to Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground, in my black BMW 3 series in 1978, having become the most expensive player to move between two English clubs.

I’d only had one punch on the nose when Tottenham let me go to Middlesbrough six years earlier for £30,000, which left me determined to prove manager Bill Nicholson wrong. My attitude when I arrived at Liverpool, in a deal worth £352,000, was: ‘What took you so long? Why wasn’t I here a couple of years ago?’

I was in a hurry. I met Liverpool manager Bob Paisley and general secretary Peter Robinson at the Queens Hotel in Leeds and Peter was in the passenger seat when I drove on to Liverpool. I didn’t anticipate the dip at the bottom of the M62 and Peter grabbed on to the dashboard in fear!

In my time managing in Europe, I can never recall a club actually meeting a release clause

I had a confidence bordering on arrogance which didn’t go down well with some of my contemporaries, but it served me well.

Can Fernandez handle the intensity? We don’t know. Can he handle the great big price tag? We don’t know. He is a £40m gamble at best. A young man with potential and little more.

The £107m buyout clause Chelsea have met to buy him means nothing. In Portugal and other European countries, clubs put these ridiculous clauses on players, knowing nobody’s going to meet them.

They are there to protect a club against bigger predators who want their players. They will say it is £150m and will end up settling for £60m. There’s a process of negotiation. The unique thing about this deal is that Chelsea have actually gone and met the entire valuation clause, because they want him right now.

In my experience of managing in Europe, I can honestly say I can never recall a club actually meeting the clause. Benfica will be surprised, if not astonished, that someone has met their fee. I ask what I asked on these pages seven months ago: Who on earth is advising Todd Boehly at Chelsea?

Todd Boehly has well and truly had his trousers pulled down by paying the full release clause

I (second from left) didn’t feel any pressure when I joined Liverpool having become the most expensive player to move between two English clubs

He might be an American investor with extremely deep pockets who fancies his chances as a Premier League high roller, but who is actually providing intelligence and assessment on the value of the players he is buying?

When it comes to Fernandez, Chelsea have paid a premium on top of a premium on top of a premium. A premium because it is the Premier League calling. A premium because it is Chelsea. A premium because they want this player now.

Compare Alexis Mac Allister, his Argentina team-mate, who has played 80 games in the Premier League for Brighton and has far fewer question marks against his name. Good age. Good experience. Good numbers of goals and assists. A proven Premier League player. I’m surprised that money hasn’t gone on him.

Alarm bells rang for me about Chelsea as soon as Boehly appointed himself ‘interim sporting director’ and decided, in his infinite wisdom, that he did not need three people at the club who had been so successful at running it. We don’t know if Bruce Buck, Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech were forced out, or left of their own accord. But surely retaining three people instrumental to the club’s success, at all costs, would have made sense — if only in the short term?

Instead, Boehly is the latest super-rich businessman learning about our football the hard way and having his trousers taken down when it comes to transfer dealings, by not knowing the value of the players he is buying.

The history of football is littered with clubs buying players after they have performed well in the World Cup and getting it wrong – Fernandez was the Young Player of the Tournament

The man in the middle of all this is Graham Potter, who now finds himself with more world-renowned players than he will know what to do with. He is being asked to handle them and maintain harmony in an increasingly complex dressing room. There will be some enormous egos in there, yet he could include only three of the eight January arrivals in his Champions League squad.

It is great to have players tied down on seven-and-a-half and eight-and-a-half-year contracts if it works out and they become proper Chelsea players but I guarantee you not all of them will. The huge security of a deal like that can affect players’ mindsets and breed complacency. Good luck trying to get them out of the door if it doesn’t work.

Time will tell how all of this ends for Potter, Chelsea and Fernandez but the signs are not great, despite that enormous outlay. Chelsea are a club with more money than God, but I come back to it — who is advising them on the wild prices they are paying for players?

Dyche’s motivational skills can rescue Everton 

It does not augur well for Everton that they failed to make a single signing in January and lost their player with the most potential — Anthony Gordon — to Newcastle. 

But I still don’t believe they are doomed. Sean Dyche has a reputation for motivational skill and he will need plenty of it. Over to you, Sean.

Everton are in trouble, but I believe Sean Dyche and his motivational skills can rescue them

I still have great affection for Blackburn 

Though it is 19 years since I worked there as a manager, Blackburn is still a place I return to, for the occasional evening at one of my favourite hotels, the Northcote Manor near our old training ground. 

I’ve had a couple of super evenings up there this week, including one hosted by the Michelin-starred John Williams, the godfather of chefs, from London’s Ritz, who invited us into the kitchen to see the preparation of what we were about to eat. 

The old mill town feels like a place on the up, with Rovers going well in the Championship. It’s great to see. I look back on my four years there with great affection. 

Even though it is 19 years since I managed Blackburn, I still have great affection for the place

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