Chelsea & Clearlake Capital's connection with Saudi Arabia - explained

Chelsea's huge spending under Todd Boehly is yet to reap rewards after a 12th-place Premier League finish; however, outgoing transfers in the 2023 summer window have courted controversy over the club's relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Boehly could sell some players to Saudi Pro League sides
Boehly could sell some players to Saudi Pro League sides / PATRICK T. FALLON / Contributor / Sergio Mendoza Hochmann

2022/23 was a season of chaotic misery for Chelsea and controversy is beginning to surround co-owner Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, the investment firm backing the American's ownership.

Boehly has overseen an unprecedented transfer spend during his brief time in west London, all to finish 12th in the Premier League with a measly 44 points. Oh, and he fired the bloke who won them the Champions League two years prior just to replace him with a long-term project manager who was out the door less than seven months later.

The ethics around club ownership is as hot a topic as any in modern football and the Blues' relationship with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund has come under scrutiny at the start of the summer transfer window.

Here's an explainer of the theories conjured up by Chelsea naysayers.

Is Clearlake Capital owned by Saudi Arabia's PIF?

The Saudi PIF is playing a crucial role in the rise of the Saudi Pro League (SPL) by controlling a majority stake in each of the division's 'Big Four' clubs. They're also funding Newcastle following Mike Ashley's departure and are the major backers behind the controversial LIV Golf project.

The sovereign wealth fund has its fingers in many pies and while PIF is said to have an excellent relationship with Clearlake Capital, it does not own the investment fund.

However, PIF has invested with Clearlake and also teamed up with one of Boehly’s businesses to put money into a hotel chain. According to some reports, PIF has "billions of pounds of assets managed by Clearlake," and Chelsea's owners are using this strong relationship to their advantage.

What's the conspiracy behind Clearlake & Boehly's relationship with PIF?

Well, after spending just shy of £600m in the 2022 summer and 2023 January transfer windows, some have accused Chelsea of "cheating" Financial Fair Play rules by dumping their unwanted stars onto Saudi clubs as a result of Clearlake's relationship with PIF.

While there seemingly wouldn't be anything wrong with this, some conspiracy theorists believe these PIF-backed Saudi clubs are willing to pay over the odds for the Chelsea players in question in a bid to protect their investment interests with Clearlake, thus allowing the Blues to balance their books following their spending spree.

Which Chelsea players are moving to Saudi Arabia?

N'Golo Kante has finally signed his Al-Ittihad contract and will join Karim Benzema at the current Saudi Pro League champions. However, the former Chelsea midfielder has signed as a free agent after his contract expired in west London.

The impending transfers that have triggered speculation are Kalidou Koulibaly to Al-Hilal, Hakim Ziyech to Al-Nassr and Edouard Mendy to Al-Ahli. The clubs in question are all backed by PIF, but the transfer fees involved do not seem to be out of the ordinary.

Ziyech is set to move for £8m, while Koulibaly, whom Chelsea signed for £33m last summer, is expected to leave for £25m.

Academy graduate Callum Hudson-Odoi has also attracted interest from the SPL.

Which Saudi clubs are owned by PIF?

Mehrdad Ghodoussi
Yasir Al-Rumayyan (R) is the current Newcastle chairman / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

While the Saudi government has a handle over every club competing in the SPL, a major step was taken earlier this summer when PIF revealed it was taking control of four clubs.

As a result, PIF now has a 75% stake in the division's 'Big Four' clubs; Al-Nassr, who signed Cristiano Ronaldo last year, Al-Ittihad, who have added Benzema and Kante to their ranks this summer after winning the title, Al-Hilal, 18-time champions, and Al-Ahli, who are back in the top flight following their shocking relegation two years ago.

PIF's increased investment is part of the country's desire for the SPL to eventually emerge as a top ten football league in the world. Saudi Arabia is also determined to host either the 2030 and 2034 World Cup.

Alongside these four Saudi clubs, PIF also holds a 80% stake in Newcastle.