GRAEME SOUNESS: Chelsea bought rookies and think it guarantees success

GRAEME SOUNESS: Chelsea have paid £173m for two rookies in Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo and think it guarantees them success. Good luck with that

  • Todd Boehly has inflated market value with Chelsea’s raid on top midfielders 
  • He spent over £250m on Romeo Lavia, Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo
  • WATCH: ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ – Episode 1 – Mail Sport’s brand new football show 

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I think the central midfield role is one which has historically always been the most undervalued in football. A role which, when executed properly, is paramount to your overall team performance.

In the last six months, we’ve seen Chelsea twice break the British transfer record – first for Enzo Fernandez and now Moises Caicedo. In both cases, they were gambles on potential. Gambles that these young men will reach the heights that the extraordinary fees warrant.

I can’t help but think that when Todd Boehly arrived at Chelsea, all the club’s football knowledge walked out the door. He’s paid way over the odds by buying players on the basis that they were being linked with other big clubs. 

Look at the pattern. It started when he shelled out £60million for Marc Cucurella because Manchester City wanted him. He continued when he paid out £105m for Enzo Fernandez because he was linked to Real Madrid and City.

And now he’s paid a combined £173million for Caicedo a 21-year-old midfielder with one year’s experience of the Premier League at Brighton, and Romeo Lavia, a 19-year-old with a year at Southampton, because they were both linked with Liverpool. The same question applies now as on the day when Boehly announced himself as Chelsea’s sporting director: Who’s he listening to?

Chelsea have splashed out £173million on Romeo Lavia (left) and Moises Caicedo (right)

Todd Boehly has inflated the market for midfielders with the money he has been spending

These days, we seem to have put midfield players in a compartment where you are a ‘CDM’ – central defensive midfielder, or an attacking midfielder player or a wide midfield player. But the best midfielders are all of the above. They can do a bit of everything – and that’s why they play in the best teams and win trophies. 

Every midfield player I played with at Liverpool was a goalscorer, a creator and worked their socks off defensively. You didn’t play for a top team if you were a passenger.

Graeme Souness believes Chelsea’s summer splurge shows a lack of football knowledge at the club since Boehly took charge

For me, Declan Rice, who I spoke about in depth last week, has only one out of the three qualities needed to be world class in that position. 

When the job is done correctly, you are three parts of a team. You’re being asked to be defensive. You’re being asked to be creative. You’re being asked to be score goals.

I always thought the priorities were simple. Never expose those behind you. Never empty that hole you are occupying, in way that exposes the space, and your defenders, by going off and chasing and trying to be a goalscorer. Keep a clean sheet. Be creative. And if you chip in with a goal – great: the icing on the cake.

Of all the midfielders I’ve played against, I can only think of Bryan Robson who, though more of an attacker than a sitter, had all three of the qualities I am talking about and that’s why he is one of the all-time great.

I’ve known other fine players. In my time at Liverpool, Ronnie Whelan was a top-class performer and very good in all categories. Jan Molby was just the most incredible passer of the ball and could ping a ball 70 yards with zero backlift but he couldn’t get around the pitch as well as others.

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Chelsea already had Enzo Fernandez, who joined from Benfica for £105m back in January

Declan Rice went for £105m to Arsenal – but Souness is not convinced he has all the attributes

Ray Wilkins was the most wonderful, clever little footballer but he didn’t enjoy the physical side of the midfield in those days. A decade later, both Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were two of the most outstanding players in that position.

I managed some very good midfielders, too. At Blackburn, Tugay was an incredible footballer, who picked passes through the eye of a needle that very few people could, but he didn’t enjoy the meatier side of midfield either. 

Garry Flitcroft was the ultimate warrior, a fantastic captain and leader who enjoyed going to war, though didn’t have the finesse of some of the others I’ve mentioned.

What we have been witnessing in the last few weeks is the inflated fees Chelsea are distorting the market with. Boehly has come with a great big cheque book, not understanding the valuation of players. 

He has bought three midfielders at vast expense, spent £800m in total, and still doesn’t have a world class striker. That’s an example of someone not understanding our game.

You can have the best goalkeeper, defence and midfield but unless you can put the ball in the net, you don’t win matches. 

The numbers speak for themselves. Fernandez didn’t score for Chelsea last season. Caicedo scored once for Brighton. Lavia scored once for Southampton.

You can be playing average football but if you’ve got a great goalscorer it drags you to respectability and possibly a trophy. It can win you games when you don’t deserve to win and wallpaper over all your shortcomings. 

Boehly has spent £30m on Nicolas Jackson from Villarreal but that doesn’t add up to a proven goalscorer, for me.

Chelsea have spent around £800m and have a raw talent in Nicolas Jackson leading the attack

Buying up young players because they will all get better one day and you’ll have a great team? I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. One of those players – maybe two – may become worldies. But to get them all to come through and become players? Good luck with that. 

Caicedo and Lavia are just young men with great potential. The game of football is littered with players who simply never got any better.

Chelsea have blown Liverpool out of the water in the race for both Caicedo and Lavia. 

Liverpool exited early from the race for Jude Bellingham, who is further down the road in his development than Caicedo, because it was going to cost close to £100m. And yet joined that very same race a few days ago with their bid for Caicedo. 

Liverpool would have been way out of their comfort zone there. That shows how desperate Liverpool have become. I’m afraid we’re witnessing a club that should have been recruiting for that moment two years ago, given the vintage of their ageing midfield.

They are living with the consequences of not doing that. Now, as always, this is a position you don’t take chances with if you want a team that will succeed and flourish.


Mo Salah was clearly not happy to be substituted 77 minutes into Liverpool’s game at Chelsea but never is a manager wiser to take no risks on a player than at the start of a season.

The pre-season is all about pushing your players to the point of almost breaking them and the risk of injury at this time is enormous. No one’s 100 per cent and players up and down the country are starting the game with something you’ve got to keep an eye on.

Being removed early is something that never happened to me and my reaction would not have been a good one. I know that. I would have let myself down. 

But if there’s one player Jurgen Klopp can’t afford to lose, through a hamstring strain or anything else, then it’s Salah.

Mohamed Salah was unhappy at being taken off at Chelsea, but it was sensible management

Salah stormed off unravelling tape around his hand before throwing it down to the floor


Obviously I have to mention the Lionesses and how fabulous they’ve been at the Women’s World Cup. I say that that through gritted teeth, as a passionate Scot, of course! 

They’ve not been at their best through the tournament but they’ve got the job done. That’s what you need to do in tournament football. 

I just can’t see them losing on Sunday with the players they have. I wish them all the best.


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

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