Roman Abramovich is willing to listen to offers for Chelsea as pressure grows over his ownership amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, sources have told ESPN.
The 55-year-old attempted to separate the club from a possible personal sanction from the U.K. government by passing “stewardship and care” of Chelsea on to its trustees on Saturday.
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However, sources have told ESPN that the trustees are seeking legal advice before responding to Abramovich’s instruction due to concerns that a charitable foundation is not a suitable entity to run a football club.
In the meantime, Abramovich is understood to be seriously considering selling Chelsea, with the U.K. government under mounting pressure to freeze the assets of high net-worth Russians in England with any alleged links to Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich has always strenuously denied any ties to the Putin regime, and Chelsea have repeatedly previously insisted the club is not for sale.
The club did not respond to a request to clarify this position when contacted by ESPN on Wednesday.
If the U.K. government was to act and sanction Abramovich, Chelsea would be frozen because it’s one of his assets. In that scenario he could not sell the club or inject any funds into it — which would have huge repercussions for the club.
At Wednesday’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, the opposition party leader, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, opened by calling for sanctions against the Chelsea owner.
“Roman Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea Football Club and various other high-value assets in the United Kingdom,” Starmer said.
“He is a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices. Last week he [U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson] said Abramovich was facing sanctions. He later corrected the record to say he isn’t. Well, why on Earth isn’t he?”
Johnson replied: “It is not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases at this stage.”
Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 for £140 million. The club’s latest accounts show he is owed £1.514 billion in loans through parent company Fordstam Limited, which he controls.
When Chelsea announced their latest accounts — a £145.6m loss after tax for the year ending June 30, 2021, despite winning the Champions League — the club admitted at the time they were “reliant on Fordstam Limited for its continued financial support.”
Swiss business tycoon Hansjoerg Wyss has claimed Abramovich contacted interested parties on Tuesday to sound out potential interest.
Chelsea have won five Premier League titles since Abramovich bought the club, as well as two Champions League trophies. Alexander Hassenstein – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images
“Abramovich is currently trying to sell all his villas in England. He also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly now. I, along with three other people, received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich,” Swiss newspaper Blick quoted Wyss as saying in an interview published on Wednesday.
Sources have told ESPN that Abramovich has told potential buyers in the past that he valued the club at around £3bn.
Wyss added, “Abramovich is asking for far too much at the moment. You know: Chelsea owes him £2bn. But Chelsea has no money. Meaning: those who buy Chelsea should compensate Abramovich.”
American businessman Todd Boehly was interested in buying a London Premier League club before the coronavirus pandemic, sounding out both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, only to have his interest rebuffed.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, according to a Forbes study from 2021, previously held preliminary talks with Abramovich over a possible purchase.
Ratcliffe’s brother Bob, who runs the football division of his company INEOS, told BBC Radio 5live last month that “we were a significant way apart on valuations.”
Another complicating factor for a potential buyer is the difficulty in renovating Stamford Bridge. Complicated plans to redevelop the 41,800-seat stadium — which involved knocking the existing structure down and rebuilding a 61,000-capacity venue — were shelved by Abramovich in 2018 around the time his U.K. investor visa expired. The site’s freehold is held by Chelsea Pitch Owners and would not therefore be included in any sale of the club.
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