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Marc Cucurella: From brink of Burnley move to a £63m Chelsea signing

Marc Cucurella’s move to Chelsea has made him the most expensive left-back in history, Brighton’s biggest ever sale and the third-most expensive Spanish player of all time.

It is a remarkable transfer considering he had a Burnley shirt in his hands a year ago.

Last summer, Cucurella and his agents visited Burnley’s training ground as they were, along with Brighton, one of the most proactive clubs in trying to sign him from La Liga side Getafe.

Cucurella was pretty satisfied with his tour. He believed a Premier League move was the step his career needed. Burnley’s offer was slightly higher financially, but Brighton won the race.

A positive playing style, led by Graham Potter, played a key role in Cucurella heading to the south coast. Another of the main reasons was a promise the player’s camp felt was made in Brighton.

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Cucurella won both player and players’ player of the season awards at Brighton in 2021-22 (Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

In the following two years, he would have the potential to play for any big side in Europe, the club told him. And then, he would be allowed to leave. But only if the price was right.

It was an accurate prediction. The 24-year-old completed an impressive debut season in the Premier League and scooped both the player and players’ player of the season last campaign.

Others started to take notice. Among them were Chelsea. Talks progressed rapidly over the past week but interest from Stamford Bridge was not news to Cucurella. His agents had been contacted in the past by their former senior executives, Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech.

They were informal contacts, just to let them know how the club and Thomas Tuchel were monitoring his progression, although they cooled down in the aftermath of Roman Abramovich’s departure as Chelsea owner and the subsequent takeover process.

Manchester City did not waste any time either; their contacts with Cucurella’s camp started in May last season.

City were ready to sign a natural left-back and the Barcelona academy graduate ticked all the boxes Pep Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain were looking for.

Conversations with City continued during the summer and there were regular reports in the media that led to jokes in the dressing room.

“Will you bring me with you to City?” one team-mate asked Cucurella while they were applauding fans after the final home game at the Amex Stadium last season (a 3-1 win against West Ham).

At that point, the player’s representatives were aware Cucurella’s moment to step up had come. Their opportunity was right in front of them but, despite Brighton telling them that he would be allowed to join a big club within two years if the price was right, they would not make it easy.

Ahead of the anticipated saga, Brighton made it clear that a huge package would be required to consider a sale. This was not taken badly by the player’s camp as they were confident they could reach a beneficial agreement for all parties.

Cucurella’s agents told the club in May that they should expect an offer from City. Brighton responded with a new contract proposal that was quickly rejected as Cucurella was set on a move.

City, too, had set limits. Although they had to offload squad members to recoup funds and make a formal offer for the left-back, they would have a ceiling when it came to the fee.

Ben White was the benchmark. Brighton sold the England centre-back to Arsenal last summer in a £50million ($60.4m)-plus package that became a starting point in their demands for Cucurella, although no set figure was suggested.

City made clear to Cucurella that if the demands were not met, they would not close a deal.

The champions’ first condition was fully met by the end of July, when Oleksandr Zinchenko was sold to Arsenal in a £32m deal. Some might ask why it did not arrive before, as City had sold Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling for a combined £92.5m. The answer is Nathan Ake.

The Netherlands defender had been close to joining Chelsea. If Ake had left, finding a replacement would have been the top priority for Guardiola, as the City hierarchy believes he needs four competitive centre-backs in the squad.

When Zinchenko left City, with the team in the United States on their pre-season tour, Ake had agreed to stay. It was time to proceed with Cucurella and Brighton.

Conversations between clubs started in the final week of July and City submitted three offers of £30m, £35m and £40m.

Brighton were understood to be offended by the first package, which was significantly below their valuation. The timing was not brilliant either: a week before the start of the Premier League would make it harder to find a replacement.

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Cucurella trains with his new Chelsea team-mates (Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Not that they did not have time to find a replacement, as City’s interest was conveyed to them in May, but Brighton’s stance was clear.

Negotiations were stalling and Cucurella’s agents took an urgent flight in the middle of the week to try to seek a resolution.

Cucurella had talks with Potter that week, reiterating his desire to leave and how disappointed he was by Brighton’s refusal to hold any productive conversation with City.

He was training with Brighton and had played in a number of their pre-season friendlies but he was not feeling well, struggling to sleep and the uncertainty of his future making him increasingly anxious.

He was begging for understanding at the club as he believed it was a unique opportunity in his career. There was a feeling those on the football side of things at Brighton could relate to his feelings. A large part of the dressing room believed a move to City was about to happen. His team-mate and former England international Danny Welbeck joked with Cucurella about renting him a place in Manchester for next season.

The player’s representatives spent the week in countless meetings and conversations with Brighton’s officials and there were several points raised during the negotiations.

Brighton alluded to different operations City had made in the past for full-backs, such as Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo and Benjamin Mendy. They all cost more than the £40m they were offering.

The replies stated that Walker and Cancelo had much more international experience and pedigree. Cucurella’s agents compared his case with promising full-backs such as Nuno Mendes and Achraf Hakimi, who were at similar stages in their careers as Cucurella when they sealed their deals to Paris Saint-Germain (in 2022) and Inter Milan (in 2020) respectively.

Brighton responded by saying Cucurella should not be rated as a full-back as he can operate in multiple positions and, according to Potter’s squad planning, he would primarily act as a centre-back, and players in that position are much more expensive — as Manchester United signing Lisandro Martinez for £56m proved this summer.

Discussions did not cease, though, and the turning point arrived on the morning of July 29 when Cucurella handed in a transfer request. There was then a further meeting that morning with the player’s representatives and the club. Despite the tense situation, there were Brighton officials who were open to starting constructive talks. The player’s camp felt this changed after the transfer request, though the club insist they were open to negotiating throughout.

Brighton told the player’s camp they were not moving from their position. At that moment, City walked away from the deal, as The Athletic reported.

The player was underwhelmed as it dawned on him that he would lose his chance to work under Guardiola, which was an incentive for someone who came through Barcelona’s academy.

Cucurella’s agents left Brighton on Saturday as they had to continue other operations in this transfer window. As soon as they touched back down in Spain, the second turning point of the saga began.

They had two missed phone calls from an unknown phone number before a text message arrived.

It was Todd Boehly, and he wanted to personally discuss the signing of Cucurella. Chelsea were willing to reach the £50m-plus package and get the deal done as soon as possible.

What followed was a move not even Cucurella was expecting, an invitation to Boehly’s villa in Mykonos.

The player’s camp cancelled everything and flew to the Greek island, where Boehly is spending the summer with his family.

Boehly was aware of Tuchel’s admiration for Cucurella and decided to reactivate the contacts that were cut off when Granovskaia and Cech left the club.

Personal terms were discussed as Boehly confirmed their intentions to meet Brighton’s demands, and their willingness to let Levi Colwill join Potter’s side.

This meeting took place hours after Barcelona announced the signing of France centre-back Jules Kounde. The Catalan giants had beaten Chelsea in a race for his signing, the second time they had done so this summer after securing Raphinha from Leeds United.

Although Chelsea did not persuade the player as emphatically as Barcelona did with Raphinha and Kounde, they managed to make the negotiations progress at a speed that left City behind.

The left-back went from the deepest sadness of not seeing a path to Champions League football to the excitement of having a new top-level proposal on the table.

Personal terms were agreed last Monday, with former City Football Group executive and now Chelsea’s president of business Tom Glick playing an important role in the talks.

On Wednesday, following the increasing number of reports announcing an agreement between both clubs with a £52.5m fee, Brighton released a statement on their social media channels.

“Contrary to inaccurate reports from numerous media outlets this evening, no agreement has been reached with any club to sell Marc Cucurella”.

Two days later, he was a Chelsea player, with a subtle dig.

Brighton have however managed to potentially get £10m more than the figures reported at the start of the week when the deal was labelled as “done”.

Tuchel now has a player he has admired for a long time, one who played an important role in the two Premier League games in which Chelsea failed to beat Brighton last season.

The German manager is understood to have spoken highly of Cucurella to his players in the past.

Cucurella gets what he wanted in the end: a transfer to one of the biggest teams in Europe where he can prove himself at Champions League level and push for an international call-up.

Those who know Cucurella are aware he has a special connection with Chelsea that started when he was a teenager. He used to play as Chelsea on the video game Pro Evolution Soccer at any opportunity, and could not get enough of using Didier Drogba to lead the line.

Now the video games will become reality — 12 months after his tour of Burnley.

(Top photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

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