Sterling to Chelsea? Jesus to Arsenal? Why the Big Six need to sell to each other

Is the time approaching when the most powerful clubs in English football – and power, let’s be clear, means money in this sport – may have to overcome some of their old insecurities when it comes to how they see each other?

We may have already reached that point if Manchester City are willing to negotiate the proposed sale of Raheem Sterling to Chelsea, while easing their previous approach that a club in their position should never sell to a direct rival.

The last time City allowed a prominent player to join another Big Six club other than on a free transfer was ten years ago. This summer they could potentially do it twice. In addition to Sterling’s proposed move to Stamford Bridge, City are open to the idea of ​​selling Gabriel Jesus to Arsenal.

Obviously something has changed and perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that Sterling is only example A when footballers at England’s top clubs, especially the elite footballers, are paid so much that it becomes increasingly difficult for them to find the same kind of wealth elsewhere.

Try adding up the number of clubs outside England that can realistically match the mind-boggling salaries that City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur pay their higher earners. Tip: it doesn’t take long.

Transfers between the Big Six

Season Handover Handover Handover Handover Handover Handover Handover


Sturridge (£12million – Chelsea to Liverpool)

Van Persie (24 million pounds – Arsenal to Man United)

Adebayor (£5million – Man City to Tottenham)


K. Touré (free – Man City to Liverpool)

Moses (loan – Chelsea to Liverpool)

Mata (£40 million – Chelsea to Man United)


Welbeck (16 million pounds – Man United to Arsenal)

Sagna (Free – Arsenal to Man City)


Cech (£10million – Chelsea to Arsenal)

Milner (free – Manchester City to Liverpool)

Sterling (£44 million – Liverpool to Man City)



Sanchez and Mkhitaryan (Swap deal between Arsenal and Man United)

Caballero (free – Manchester City to Chelsea)

Solanke (Tribunal – Chelsea to Liverpool)

Oxlade Chamberlain (£35 million – Arsena to Liverpool)

Walker (£45million – Tottenham to Man City)

Matic (£40 million – Chelsea to Man United)

Giroud (18 million pounds – Arsenal to Chelsea)



David Luiz (£8million – Chelsea to Arsenal)


Willian (free – Chelsea to Arsenal)


Paris Saint Germain is one. Bayern Munich have shown in the case of Sadio Mane that they can make exceptions. Juventus are doing the same with Paul Pogba. Real Madrid will always be one of Europe’s superpowers and Barcelona have enough self-esteem to consider themselves the same (just a shame, perhaps, over the £1bn debt at the Camp Nou). Yet La Liga has fallen far behind the Premier League in finance – and it’s the same in Serie A and everywhere else.

So where else could a player with the financial needs of Sterling, who is reportedly earning £300,000 a week, end up with a transfer fee of around £35 million and the player in question, who turns 28 later this year, is on a age is when it has virtually no resale value?

The short answer is that there are very few alternatives – and that, in a nutshell, is why Chelsea have come onto the scene. Only the rich can afford to buy from the rich, or super-rich in these cases.

PSG can’t just gobble up anyone, even if the club of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar gives the impression they’d love to try. Madrid can no longer blow everyone out of the water with their financial might. And perhaps as a result of all this, England’s elite clubs may need to learn how to do business with each other more often. Perhaps that process is underway.

This is never the easiest topic for the fans of those clubs when, as anyone who has been in this position can attest, it is always shocking when your team sells a prominent player to a rival.

Ask Arsenal supporters about Robin van Persie’s departure to United and what it was like to see their former player inspire Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to the league title. That is the risk City would take if they allowed Sterling to go to Chelsea. Selling Jesus to Arsenal is quite another matter. But Sterling to Chelsea? It’s easy to see why a lot of City fans won’t like the idea, and so will many of the people within the club.

Veron traded Old Trafford for Stamford Bridge in 2003 (Picture: John Stillwell – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Let’s not overdo this either. No one can imagine United and Liverpool removing the barriers that have prevented England’s two biggest clubs from transferring one player since Phil Chisnall left Old Trafford, for £25,000, to sign at Anfield in 1964. No one would make the first cross -Manchester transfer since Expecting Terry Cooke traded United’s red for City’s blue in 1999. Some rivalries run far too deep for the dynamics not to change so much.

United did negotiate a potential £1.35m fee to re-sign Charlie McNeill, then 17, from City’s academy in 2020, six years after the teenager went the other way for £12,000. But is it realistic to think the same could happen to an established first-team player? No, is the blunt answer. Nor is City-Liverpool because of the way their rivalry has shaped in the Pep Guardiola-Jurgen Klopp era. Nor Arsenal-Spurs, 20 years since Rohan Ricketts was the last player to be sold between the two clubs.

There are other options. One is to loan the high-earning player, but that often means paying a significant portion of the wages, so how can that ever be satisfactory? Just think of the ‘dead’ money United wasted on Alexis Sanchez by contributing £175,000 a week to his salary at Inter Milan. These clubs may be mega-rich, but who wants to lose millions of pounds this way?

All of this brings us back to the original point about whether the Premier League’s Big Six might need to reassess some of their relationships when it comes to what’s odd and what isn’t in selling and buying players.

If that’s the case, it should probably come as no surprise that Chelsea are right in the middle of it. This is the club that persuaded Liverpool to sell Fernando Torres, sell Petr Cech to Arsenal, take Juan Sebastian Veron from United and allow Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic to go the other way. Of all the Big Six clubs, Chelsea always seemed more relaxed in doing business with their rivals.

Chelsea sold Mata to Manchester United (Picture: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images)

However, it is always complicated. Around the same time that United signed Mata, Chelsea wanted Wayne Rooney and it had been given the impression that the player was eager to join. More than once, Ed Woodward, the then CEO of United, reached a message that the relevant people at Stamford Bridge were open to sit on the other side of the negotiating table. Each time he politely declined. Woodward had no intention of selling Rooney, but knew it would be difficult to negotiate for Mata if he had to tell them to forget that anything else was happening.

What happened instead can be understood as a case study of how complicated and sensitive these big money schemes can be. United used Mata’s father, Juan Sr, and Colin Pomford, an agent from Madrid, to arrange everything over several months of positioning and political negotiations. It was one of Woodward’s greatest victories, possibly because he kept a strategic distance. As remarkable as it may sound, the entire £37.1 million transfer came about without a direct phone call between the two clubs.

In Sterling’s case, City had always suspected that he would rather move to Madrid than have the former Liverpool player spot another English club.

That suspicion was probably well founded, if you remember that in February 2020 Sterling appeared on the front page of AS, one of Madrid’s sports newspapers, with a City shirt slung over one shoulder and a Madrid shirt hanging from the other, almost like the angel and devil of his conscience whispering conspiratorially in his ear.

The picture was striking, as was the timing, five days before City played at the Bernabeu and a week after their two-year ban from UEFA competitions (withdrawn) was announced. It was an unauthorized interview, staged by Sterling’s agent, and the relevant people at City were clearly unimpressed.

However, nothing came about that way and nothing seems to be at stake, even if the long chase from Madrid to Mbappe ended badly for them. Perhaps this is no longer the club where Jorge Valdano, formerly their sporting director, once proclaimed: “You can never have too many stars.” And again, it comes back to the same point: if Sterling really wants to leave City, how many places can afford him?

The same goes for Mohamed Salah, which is probably why there are people close to the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year talking about the possibility that he too could stay in England if he chooses to join Liverpool. leaving when his contract expires next year. Chelsea would again be a good bet simply because of the financial resources involved and the small, dwindling amount of alternatives.

It’s not something any Liverpool fan would want to consider. But it’s also the reality in this era of modern football, where the cash register-tinkling, money-turning Premier League is one giant slot machine.

(Photos: Getty Images; Image: Sam Richardson)

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