Why Man City transfer raid for huge Chelsea star makes perfect sense - for both clubs
Fresh reports suggest that Reece James is a target for Manchester City - and as fanciful as it sounds, it makes a lot of sense for everyone involved.
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Whether or not he had any inkling at the time, Reece James may have been playing against his future employers in Chelsea's barnstorming 4-4 draw with Manchester City on Sunday evening - at least according to a new report published by the Manchester Evening News and citing The Independent as its source, which suggests that the champions are lining James up as a long-term replacement for Kyle Walker.
At first glance, the story seems a little improbable. Would Chelsea really sell their captain and arguably their best player to another blue chip club in the Premier League? But when you scratch a little further beneath the surface, it begins to make a lot of sense from the perspectives of both of the sides involved - and while it's impossible to say whether the rumour has any veracity to it, you can certainly see why it would come about...
City in need of a new right-back
From Manchester City's perspective, the attraction is pretty plain - when fully fit, which is admittedly never a given, James is among the very best right-backs in the world. He's superb in every third of the field and fits the profile of a Pep Guardiola player down to the finest details.
Guardiola demands players who can contribute in multiple areas with sharp, precise passing and constant, high-quality movement - a skillset which James absolutely possesses. By almost every statistical metric, he is one of the best passing defenders in the global game, whether it's in terms of volume, accuracy or how efficiently those passes progress play.
Throw into that some superb ball-carrying skills, excellent crossing and rock solid judgement in the tackle, and there's no question that he'd fit right in with the way Guardiola wants his team to play. City aren't shy of pulling the trigger on some very expensive purchases if there's a chance they can elevate the team, so the fact that he'd likely cost a small fortune (the reports don't mention a price tag) is unlikely to be any kind of deterrent.
Then there's Walker, the current City right-back whose position in the team is largely unchallenged at present. There's precious little wrong with him or his performances, but he's now 33 and there is only so long he can go before he starts to miss a step or lose that pseudo-scientific 'half a yard' of pace. He has already made at least one rather dreadful error, away to Sheffield United, and Guardiola may be wondering how long he can maintain his standards.
It's also worth remembering that there were plenty of reports circulating that Walker would leave the Etihad last summer, with Bayern Munich among the sides linked with a bid. That never materialised, but the implication exists that Guardiola feels it could be time to move on - and if that's the case, then James seems like an obvious target, although his dreadful injury record has to be a factor. Can James stay fit for the long term? Or will all those injuries continue as a regular theme through his career?
But why would Chelsea sell?
Here's the million dollar question - or, more probably, the hundred million dollar question. Of course, Chelsea have already sold one homegrown star, Mason Mount, to an immediate Premier League rival, but that doesn't necessarily set a precedent. But Chelsea may have backed themselves into a financial corner.
As it stands, Chelsea are fairly comfortably within the bounds of the FFP rules despite a spending spree totalling around £1.5bn since Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital took over from Roman Abramovic last year. They've been able to make this work because of the way they have amortised their contracts - the eight-year deals they've handed out to players like Mykhaylo Mudryk might look bizarre on the surface, but they allow Chelsea to spread the impact of the players' transfer fees over the entirety of that period. So Mudryk may have cost a reported £88.5m, but because they're spreading that over eight years, he's effectively worth £11m each year as far as FFP is concerned.
Which is all well and good - but they could have an issue down the line. UEFA spending rules currently don't apply to Chelsea because they aren't playing in continental competition, but they will hope to do so in future. Those rules limit clubs to spending 70% of their total revenue on transfer fees, player wages and agent fees. The Premier League is introducing the same rules in 2025/26.
While there are many financial tricks teams can access to make the numbers work, if Chelsea get closer to 2025 with a bloated wage bill and a huge squad, it will become trickier to fit everything together on the balance sheet. UEFA are also closing the loophole that allows the amortisation process to extend over extremely long contracts -amortisation will soon be capped at five years, although luckily for Chelsea the rules won't be applied retrospectively.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that it's possible that Chelsea will need to be open to big-money sales down the line to keep themselves within the bounds of the regulations, and they'll certainly have to do that if they want to continue making big-money purchases down the line. They won't need to sell this summer, but if a huge bid comes in for one of their assets, they need to give it some thought - happily for the Blues, they have James under contract until 2028, which means can't easily be backed into a position where they're forced to sell if they don't want to, or if they prefer to try to move other players on instead.
Such thinking may have partly informed the decision to move Mount on, and the same logic could apply to James. Besides, as brilliant as he is, and as beloved as he is by the Stamford Bridge faithful, that injury record surely has to be factored in once more... if there are no guarantees that you'll get the minutes out of him that you need, cashing out makes an awful lot of sense.
The reports could be wide of the mark, of course, and even if City do look the transfer over they may decide to go for a cheaper or less injury-prone alternative. But it does make logical sense for all parties on at least some level - so this could well be one to watch in the not-too-distant future.