The threat of having his assets seized has forced Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich to seek a buyer for the club.
Over recent days, Labour MP’s Chris Bryant and Dame Margaret Hodge used parliamentary privilege to call on Abramovich to face sanctions. The call was repeated in the House today by Labour Party leader Keir Starmer.
This has caused Abramovich, reputedly close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin (Abramovich vehemently denies having direct links to Putin), to make his move. He’s also understood to be seeking buyers for his 16 room mansion in Kensington and another apartment he owns in the capital.
There may be more than one interested party involved in gaining ownership of the club, one of the biggest in the world of course, but also the Premier League club that has lost the most money.
Chelsea owes Abramovich £1.5bn, but he says he won’t be seeking repayment of any loans, although he’s likely to want somewhere in the region of £3m for the club he purchased in 2003 for £140m.
Whether the club is worth that much or not, prospective buyers may feel they can get the club on the cheap, although Abramovich has said he won’t be selling quickly. Chelsea’s traditional losses and the size of the stadium is likely to drag the price downwards. And despite the Russian’s claims to the contrary, the signs are that he may well sell faster than he prefers.
Developments have occurred at pace, with Abramovich announcing, Saturday, he was handing stewardship and care of Chelsea to its charitable foundation. Whatever that meant, the club added he would remain the sole owner and that Abramovich had no intention of selling.
Uncertainty then followed when Foundation members raised legal concerns and the Charity Commission said it was “seeking information” from Chelsea.
Then came claims by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss that he’d been offered the chance to buy. Wyss told the Swiss daily broadsheet, Blick, that “He [Abramovich] was wanting to sell quickly.”
Wyss was also quoted: “As of today, we don’t know the exact selling price. I can well imagine starting at Chelsea with partners. But I have to examine the general conditions first.
“But what I can already say: I’m definitely not doing something like this alone. If I buy Chelsea, then with a consortium consisting of six to seven investors.”
One of those investors is believed to be American Todd Boehly, part-owner of LA Dodgers (baseball) and LA Sparks (basketball). Boehly reputedly offered $3bn to Abramovich for Chelsea in 2019.
In a statement on the Premier League club’s website, Abramovich (55) said it was an “incredibly difficult decision to make”, which “pains” him.
Abramovich further added: “I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart.
“In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners.
“The sale of the club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process. I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid.
“I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.
“It has never been about business nor money, but about pure passion for the game and club”.
It is a seismic moment in British football history, world football history in fact. Probably the only more influential figure in the first thirty years of the Premier League is Sir Alex Ferguson.
Since the then 39-year-old purchased Chelsea, the club was transformed and began to set the pace for the amount of financial expenditure required to compete at the higher echelons of the Premier League and subsequently European and world football.
Under his ownership Chelsea won every trophy there was to win, and without Abramovich’s influence in West London it’s arguable whether or not the Abu Dhabi United Group consortium would have entered football with Manchester City in 2008.
Elsewhere, other Russian billionaires have already been the subject of European Union sanctions where their assets have been frozen including Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who has commercial links to Everton.
The Toffees today suspended commercial sponsorship arrangements with Russian companies partly owned by Usmanov.
Everton owner Farhad Moshiri is the chairman of USM Holdings (Usmanov holds a 49% stake) which sponsors the Goodison club’s training ground.
The Russian oligarch has the exclusive naming-rights option on Everton’s new stadium which is due to open for the start of the 2024/25 season.