Arsenal and Chelsea will push now to sign midfielder, £70m plus add-ons needed

The Ben Jacobs Chelsea column was exclusively published at Si & Dan Talk Chelsea.

Chelsea are bracing themselves ahead of the transfer window opening for a busy summer. Outgoings remain vital, even if they aren’t as exciting to fans as incomings.

It may feel like it’s been a quiet few days before the window officially opens. But often when things go silent, it means stuff is advancing behind the scenes.

Mauricio Pochettino officially comes in on July 1. But of course, he’ll be well across the three weeks or so before he formally joins. The new Chelsea boss is very much inheriting a transfer strategy. He’ll play a big part in it, but it’s still worth pointing out that Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley are pulling the strings.

Chelsea’s first window was kind of the Todd Boehly show. January was more collaborative with a recruitment team evolving. Now I sense Boehly, and to a lesser extent Behdad Eghbali, will take a step back, at least on the recruitment-strategy side. They may still be involved in any final negotiations. But Stewart and Winstanley are the two most accountable people in terms of picking targets.

Pochettino was hired because he buys into the model. So any suggestion that he is suddenly going to call all of the shots is wide of the mark. But what will happen is his desire for proven Premier League quality will be taken into account, and he wouldn’t have accepted the job unless he had confidence that enough outgoings will happen to give him a manageable squad size.

Mateo Kovacic to Manchester City is likely to be one of the first exits providing the clubs agree a fee. All parties are optimistic and the player wants the move.

N’Golo Kante is on the brink of joining Saudi champions Al-Ittihad. He already shook hands with their club president. Al-Ittihad have been looking very closely at the medical tests due to the huge package offered to Kante, worth up to €100m per year with all costs considered. Al-Nassr also want Kante and are waiting to see if there are any late surprises.

Chelsea’s offer actually remains on the table as well. But it’s likely the club will lose three senior midfielders in the space of half a year. Jorginho went to Arsenal in January and if Kante and Kovacic go, then two will probably have to come in.

Christian Pulisic is also likely to leave. As revealed last summer, Serie A is his preferred destination. He spoke to Weston McKennie about Juventus last summer, but a loan offer never arrived. Milan are also looking. A move to Italy might require Pulisic to take a wage cut, though.

Hakim Ziyech, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Trevor Chalobah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eduoard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga are all potential outgoings.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who Chelsea have, or sign: if the squad is too bloated it’s a recipe for disaster even with a longer pre-season for everyone to gel.

The other name who could exit is of course Mason Mount. His possible departure divides opinion amongst the fan base. My personal view is that Mount is a fantastic player with sky-high potential. He is Chelsea through and through and it would be a huge blow to the club if he is sold.

Pochettino and the owners would love to keep Mount, but if he informs Chelsea he won’t extend and wants to leave, then the club have to go into selling mode and seek a fee rather than letting the contract run down.

I know that people speak of a halfway house whereby somehow Mount stays, the contract runs down, but then he falls in love with the Pochettino project and eventually renews. This is kind of what Daniel Levy is hoping Harry Kane does at Spurs. But it would be a risky tactic from Chelsea. And again, it would all depend on the Mount. If he asks to leave, and Chelsea refuse, it could be really demoralising for Mount. This is basically what happened with Pulisic last summer. Keeping a player against their wishes rarely works. Chelsea’s middle ground was trying to get Mount to sign for an extra year to buy themselves time.

It’s true, as I’ve reported many times, that £70-75m is the ballpark that Chelsea are starting at. Suitors are £15-20m away from that in their own valuation for Mount due to his contractual situation. Manchester United are the favorites for Mount, but they want to pay under £60m, and perhaps even closer to £50m. So we have to wait and see whether Chelsea come down on price.

Manchester United would ideally like to bring in two players early in the window for a collective spend of about £100m. So if Mount ends up taking up three quarters of that budget, rather than half, it puts the club in a slightly difficult position if they also want to move early for, for example, Napoli defender Kim. He only has a release clause active for the first two weeks of the window. So it’s a bit of a budgetary balancing act for Manchester United. Even if new owners come in, they will also still be slightly hampered by FFP.

In terms of Chelsea’s incomings, Moises Caicedo is definitely still a big Chelsea target, as first revealed last December. Brighton rejected Chelsea’s bid in January. The expectation from sources is that both Chelsea and Arsenal will try again. Liverpool will not be in the race since they don’t see value at the price required.

Even though Brighton are just offering up a specific number, my understanding is it’s going to take a starting point of £70m guaranteed plus at least £10m in add ons. Caicedo signed a new deal after the January window knowing the club would still let him leave this summer, but putting pen to paper will ensure Brighton get a healthy fee.

I don’t think Caicedo will end up being £100m, but Brighton will clearly welcome a bidding war. A bit like when Wesley Fofana joined Chelsea from Leicester… the structure will be as important as the number. I feel like this is my transfer window catchphrase. I am going to be banging on about ‘structure’ for much of the window, so brace yourselves!

Away from midfield, Chelsea will also go for a goal scorer, even with Christopher Nkunku arriving from Leipzig. They have several forwards on their list including Dusan Vlahovic and Lautaro Martinez.

It’s a good time to talk to Inter now that the Champions League Final is over. They need to sell players. Inter made a mistake not accepting PSG’s offer for Milan Skriniar last summer. Now they are losing him on free instead of banking around £50m.

Not bringing in that money will mean they’ll have to get rid of one or two for sure. Inter will say publicly Martinez is not for sale. But many industry insiders feel almost everybody at the club is gettable at the right price. So keep an eye on how things develop there.

It’s obviously the same with Inter keeper André Onana, who is also on Chelsea’s list. I think that David Raya is more likely now to depart for Spurs. Chelsea certainly didn’t don’t see value in Brentford’s very publicly quoted fee of £40m. Spurs were also seriously looking at Jordan Pickford, but now Everton have stayed up it’s a much harder deal to pull off.

Milan’s Mike Maignan is going to be difficult for Chelsea to pull off at any kind of value. Milan have no intention to sell. To change their mind it would require Maignan to really force the move and an offer in excess of €85m.

Chelsea are busy behind the scenes, there’s no doubt about it. It’s very easy sometimes to think that because things have gone quiet that nothing is happening and get frustrated. And this is the irony…

When there’s too much noise fans don’t like it, and they feel that there’s competing stories. And when there’s not enough out there, fans get worried because they fear their club is doing nothing. Clubs usually prefer it when they can get business done under the radar. It doesn’t happen too often (at least not if we are doing our jobs as journalists!), but don’t judge Chelsea on whether they’re making headlines or not. Judge Chelsea, come August, when they line up for their first game of the season. Judge them on how big the squad is then and how young the average age is. Judge Chelsea on potential ahead of the new season. And obviously, as the season progresses, judge Chelsea on whether they have found identity and goals.

Just look at Newcastle, even though they have a different model and squad to Chelsea. My point is, they were fighting relegation one season and a year on they have qualified for the Champions League. And that turnaround wasn’t only down to recruitment or crazy spending. In fact, their most reckless purchase was probably Burnley’s Chris Wood, who they overspent on because they needed goals at the time.

Of course players like Nick Pope, Bruno Guimaraes, Alexander Isak or Sven Botman have excelled. And what a signing Kieran Trippier has been. But Newcastle’s success is also down to Eddie Howe building unity and momentum and getting the best out of players like Miguel Almiron, Fabian Schar and Joelinton.

Newcastle are a team not a collection of individuals. Chelsea need to become one. One Chelsea signing, however big, is not going to fix everything unless the group has chemistry, which is what Pochettino must build in pre-season.

Ben Jacobs

Chelsea News