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Todd Boehly in Saudi summit meeting with ex-Chelsea director ahead of summer sales

Todd Boehly - Todd Boehly in Saudi summit meeting with ex-Chelsea director ahead of summer sales

Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly has made a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where it is believed he met with the country’s sports minister and the director of football for the Saudi Pro League Michael Emenalo.

While neither side has confirmed the purpose of the visit and meeting, which is understood to have taken place in the capital Riyadh in the last couple of weeks, it will only underline the belief that Chelsea are once again attempting to raise cash by selling players to Saudi Arabia.

Chelsea have also held talks with Riyadh Air, along with other companies, about becoming the club’s new front-of-shirt sponsor for next season.

The club last week announced pre-tax losses of £90.1 million, with some of Chelsea’s rivals believing they need to raise at least £100 million in player sales by June 30, a figure and timeline the Blues refute.

Boehly, who is Chelsea’s co-controlling owner, got the club out of potential financial problems last summer by personally setting up deals for Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy to join Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli respectively, before the June 30 accounting cut-off.

The American billionaire also tried to send Romelu Lukaku to Saudi, but the striker refused to move with Koulibaly and Mendy to Al-Hilal, while the proposed switch of Hakim Ziyech to Al-Nassr fell through.

Romelu Lukaku - Todd Boehly in Saudi summit meeting with ex-Chelsea director ahead of summer sales
Romelu Lukaku rejoined Chelsea for a second spell in the summer of 2021 in a then-record £97.5 million transfer - Reuters/John Sibley

Chelsea will try again this summer to permanently offload Lukaku, who has a £37 million release clause in his contract that was amended last year as part of his loan move to Roma.

Lukaku has been a success at Roma, but there have been suggestions in Italy that the club may struggle to afford Lukaku’s permanent fee while also matching his wage demands.

Despite turning down a move to Saudi last year, Lukaku appeared to open the door to the possibility of a switch by saying: “In the next two years I see this league becoming one of the best in the world, if not the best. The clubs make a lot of efforts to bring the ‘big’ players here. As a result, the teams and the footballing qualities are improving significantly.”

Emenalo, who spent seven years at Chelsea, mostly as technical director, was responsible for Lukaku first moving to London as a teenager and later tried to re-sign him from Everton.

In his role as director of football for the Saudi Pro League, Emenalo, who is also partly responsible for Chelsea’s hugely successful academy, takes an overarching view of clubs’ spending and the transfer market, as well as improving infrastructure and setting strategy.

Club want to offload Arrizabalaga

Another high earner Chelsea need to find a solution for is goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has spent the season on loan at Real Madrid. The expectation in Spain is that his loan will not be extended and Real will not try to buy him, meaning Chelsea need to find a new home for the 29-year-old, who cost £71.6 million.

Chelsea last summer signed Robert Sanchez and Djordje Petrovic, meaning there is no room for Kepa in their squad. His wages, which are thought to be around £150,000-a-week, significantly limit the number of clubs who might be interested in him.

Raheem Sterling last year ignored a huge offer from Saudi Arabia and could be the subject of more interest, but there is no suggestion that his opinion would change with the forward said to remain fully committed to Chelsea.

Whether or not that is enough to stop a Saudi club making a bid remains to be seen and Chelsea’s interest in Athletic Bilbao star Nico Williams, who also predominantly plays on the left, presents a potential issue.

Other players who Chelsea are likely to try to cash in on this summer are Spanish left-back Marc Cucurella, Armando Broja and Trevoh Chalobah, while doubts remain over the future of Tottenham Hotspur target Conor Gallagher. But the homegrown trio are not expected to be offered to Saudi clubs.

While Boehly has stepped back slightly from the day-to-day running of Chelsea, he retains the same amount of power he took on after buying the club, with Clearlake Capital, from former owner Roman Abramovich.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, Clearlake, whose fund is managed by Behdad Eghbali and Jose Feliciano, own 61.5 per cent of shares and voting rights in Chelsea with the other 38.5 split equally between Boehly, Hansjorg Wyss and Mark Walter. Eghbali and Feliciano’s personal stakes in the Clearlake fund are said to be lower than the investments made by Boehly, Wyss and Walter.

Each big decision needs the co-signature of Boehly and Eghbali, who, along with Wyss, were at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea’s crucial Premier League victory over Newcastle United on Monday night.

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