Joao Felix admits Champions League will sway Chelsea future decision as new players risk pay hit
Joao Felix has suggested that Chelsea’s Champions League destiny will impact a decision on his future, while a number of the club’s players face the threat of taking a significant financial hit if they fail to qualify for next season’s tournament.
Despite returning to winning ways in the Premier League by beating Leeds United, Chelsea’s most realistic chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is by winning the competition this year. Chelsea must overturn a 1-0 deficit against Borussia Dortmund at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night to progress past the last-16.
With Graham Potter’s team still in 10th place in the league table, 11 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea will most likely miss out on qualifying for the Champions League if they cannot beat Dortmund.
Felix is on loan from Atletico Madrid until the end of the season and has impressed at Chelsea, scoring one goal and hitting the bar twice in six appearances. Asked if joining Chelsea permanently would be dependent on the club playing in the Champions League, Felix said: “Yeah, playing in the Champions League is always different. It’s a competition that everyone wants to play.
“But now I’m focused on this Champions League, on the game. We have a lot of games yet to try to reach the Champions League in the league. It’s not over. But, yeah, playing in the Champions League is an important decision, but the future no one knows, so let’s see what happens and then we’ll see.”
Felix did offer Chelsea some hope by adding: “Chelsea is a team who likes to attack, who likes to have the ball, who likes to dominate the game, so that’s the game I like to play. I feel very free to play here, to play as I like. I’m loving it. When I left Atletico, I thought it was good for me and for them. So I think it was the perfect deal. So I think it’s important for me, this loan, and I’m very happy to play here."
While Felix is on loan at Chelsea, Telegraph Sport understands that most of the players signed permanently by the club in the past two transfer windows agreed to a variation in their contracts, thought to be worth over 25 per cent in some cases, based on playing in the Champions League.
The move was designed to help protect Chelsea from some of the financial implications of missing out on the Champions League, either now or in the future, by the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital owners.
It represents a huge shift from the Roman Abramovich era, when players were guaranteed their full salaries, whether or not Chelsea finished in the top four. Whereas Boehly and Clearlake have tried to incentivise player contracts with variations and bonuses, Abramovich’s policy was to pay far bigger guaranteed salaries but only reward his squad with bonuses for winning trophies.
That means the Chelsea players who signed their contracts before the change of ownership will not be hit in the pocket by a failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Despite spending over £600million in the last two transfer windows, Boehly and his co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali have started the process of slashing the club’s wage bill.
New players have signed heavily incentivised contracts and those who have extended their old deals have also agreed to Chelsea’s new bonus scheme without as many guarantees.
The wage bill will be cut further in the summer, with Chelsea planning a clear-out to bring the size of the club’s squad down.
Potter: We are prepared for penalties
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was demoted from Potter’s Champions League squad, will almost certainly leave, while there are doubts over the long-term futures of Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz, Edouard Mendy, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Conor Gallagher, Trevoh Chalobah and on-loan Denis Zakaria. Chelsea are not yet sure whether Inter Milan will agree to take Romelu Lukaku on loan for a second season.
Chelsea may need penalties to qualify past Dortmund for the quarter-finals, should the aggregate score be tied after extra-time, and Potter revealed his squad have prepared for such a scenario.
Potter said: “The boys are always practising penalties and we’ve of course prepared for that eventuality because it’s a possibility. We want to get it done before that, but if not then ok, then we have to go through in that way.”
With Jorginho joining London rivals Arsenal in January, Potter also confirmed that Havertz is now Chelsea’s designated penalty taker.
Havertz has only scored one goal in his last 12 appearances but received the backing of Felix, who said: “He’s an amazing player. Everyone knows what he has done for the club. Sometimes you are on a streak of scoring in every game. Every time you don’t, you just have to keep working. He is always searching for ways to be better and to score. Tomorrow he will score.”
Chelsea hope Reece James will be fit to start against Dortmund, but will make a late check on him after the right-back trained on Monday, while Potter confirmed Pulisic will be in his squad. But N’Golo Kante is not yet ready to be on the substitutes’ bench, despite returning to training, while Benoit Badiashile was not included in the club’s Champions League squad.