Why Chelsea can’t afford to keep Gallagher, or let him go

Conor Gallagher has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent performers this season — a homegrown player, regularly selected by England and deemed important enough by Stamford Bridge manager Mauricio Pochettino to wear the captain’s armband in recent weeks. Yet despite all of that, Pochettino has no idea whether Gallagher will still be at the club when the January transfer window closes.

Welcome to the world of financial loopholes, of players deemed as pure profit on a balance sheet and a manager’s needs being secondary to the requirements of those charged with making the numbers work.

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If Gallagher’s future at Chelsea was to be decided purely on merit, there would not even be a conversation about the 23-year-old being offloaded next month. The fact that his contract is due to expire at the end of the 2024-25 season is obviously an issue to be addressed at some stage over the next 12 months.

But with so many of Chelsea’s big-money signings struggling to make their mark at the club, the risk of allowing Gallagher to leave in January purely for financial reasons — at the expense of sound football logic — would only be detrimental to Pochettino’s hopes of building a successful team at Stamford Bridge. Yet with the transfer window due to open in less than two weeks, the financial benefits of parting with Gallagher are precisely why the midfielder’s future is out of Pochettino’s hands.

“It is a decision between the player and the club, to be or not to be,” Pochettino told reporters this week when asked about Gallagher’s future at Chelsea. “He is in the starting XI nearly every game and one of the captains. For me, he is the type of player that the club need to have.

“He is important because of his Chelsea values. He came from the academy, he loves the club and he is very committed. You can see that on the pitch — he runs, he plays, he fights. He does everything to win. He is a really important player that the coaching staff want to have on the team.”

Sources have told ESPN, however, that Chelsea are open to offers for Gallagher in January despite him being a key figure in Pochettino’s team. Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United have all been linked with a move for the player.

One senior figure at a Premier League rival told ESPN that it is no secret within the game that an offer of £50 million would likely be enough to tempt Chelsea to offload Gallagher. That, in turn, would enable the club to rival Arsenal in their pursuit of Brentford forward Ivan Toney, whose suspension for breaching gambling regulations is due to end on Jan. 17.

Chelsea have spent close to £1 billion on 25 players since a Todd Boehly-led Clearlake Capital consortium bought the club from previous owner Roman Abramovich in May 2022, so there is a clear need to attempt to balance the books in terms of player ins and outs. But while offloading one of the many over-priced signings who have failed to perform would make more football sense than parting with Gallagher, the appeal to the Chelsea accountants of trading Pochettino’s vice-captain is that any fee received for the player would count as a 100% gain in the financial figures.

Because Gallagher cost Chelsea nothing as an academy player, and is therefore down at costing nothing on the balance sheet, a fee of £50m would be pure profit. If, on the other hand, Chelsea were to offload Mykhailo Mudryk, an £88m signing from Shakhtar Donetsk last January, they would have to factor in the remaining value of his eight-and-a-half year contract and any monies still owed to the Ukrainian club.

There are no such complications with Gallagher — whatever Chelsea receive for the player would take a huge chunk out of their transfer deficit in this year’s accounts and help them comply with the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules, which monitor a club’s financial dealings. During the summer transfer window, Chelsea raised £110m in transfer fees by parting with Mason Mount (£55m, to Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£15m, AC Milan), Ethan Ampadu (£7m, Leeds United), Callum Hudson-Odoi (£5m, Nottingham Forest) and Lewis Hall, whose season-long loan to Newcastle includes a £28m clause obligating them to sign him permanently. Like Gallagher, all of those players were produced by Chelsea’s academy, so their transfer fees are pure profit.

During the last January window, Gallagher rejected a £40m transfer to Everton in order to fight for his place at Chelsea. But under their new owners, Chelsea have adopted a strict policy of offloading players before they enter the final year of their contract, with Mount’s summer move to Old Trafford prompted by his refusal to sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge. With 18 months left on his Chelsea contract, Gallagher is entering what clubs regard as dangerous territory. Mount’s exit is a good example of why Pochettino feels powerless to control Gallagher’s future.

From a football perspective, allowing Gallagher to leave next month makes absolutely no sense for Chelsea. Even from a financial viewpoint, his performances so far this season would suggest it would be wise to wait until the end of the season before deciding whether he stays or goes.

But Chelsea have taken a different approach to player trading under the new owners with huge spending, unusually lengthy contracts and a readiness to treat homegrown players as little more than a financial resource. So no matter how important Gallagher has become to Pochettino, his value on the pitch counts for nothing compared to what he is worth on the balance sheet.

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