Chelsea’s American owners witnessed their first season’s last hope for any success crumble as their club, which they had acquired in a deal worth £4.25 billion ($5.28bn) last year, was eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid.
Chelsea is currently struggling in the unfamiliar lower half of the Premier League, and they are at risk of their worst domestic league finish in almost 30 years.
Furthermore, they were eliminated from the FA Cup and League Cup at the first hurdle.
Their only opportunity to qualify for next season’s lucrative Champions League by winning the competition has vanished as a result of Real’s 4-0 aggregate quarter-final victory, which included a 2-0 triumph at Stamford Bridge.
The prospect of a drop in income is raising fears among Chelsea fans that some of the club’s best young players will be sold to meet financial rules.
The spectacular slump in the 2022/23 season – during which Chelsea have had three different coaches – stands in contrast with the string of heady campaigns under previous owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
He was forced to sell the club by Britain’s government last year following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Chelsea were the most successful team in England in the period between Abramovich buying the club in 2003 and its sale in 2022, a run that included two Champions League triumphs in 2012 and 2021 and five English league titles.
That track record – and the surge in global support for the west London club along the way – explained Chelsea’s appeal to a consortium led by LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly and backed by Clearlake Capital, a private equity firm.
On top of the deal to buy the club last May, they have invested a further 550 million pounds on players, spending in the January transfer window more than all the clubs in the top divisions of Spain, Italy, Germany and France combined.
But somehow they failed to buy someone capable of scoring goals on a regular basis with a gamble on former Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failing at almost the first test.
Chelsea have scored 30 goals in 31 league games so far. By contrast, table-topping Arsenal have scored 74 and second-placed Manchester City have found the net 78 times.
Tuesday’s blank was the fifth in six games in all competitions.
With no spearhead for their attack, Chelsea’s managers this season – Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and now caretaker boss Frank Lampard – have all struggled to turn a collection of expensive stars and home-grown talent into a cohesive team.
Chelsea fans have turned their frustrations on the owners of the club and some were photographed remonstrating with Boehly in his executive box after last weekend’s 2-1 home defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion. British media said an upset Boehly talked to players in the dressing room after that result.