Chelsea: Abramovich plans to sell club
Pressure is growing over Roman Abramovich’s ownership of Chelsea FC amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Reports indicate that the Russian billionaire is planning to sell Chelsea, with the UK government under mounting international pressure to freeze all assets of high net-worth Russians residing in England with any possible links to Vladimir Putin.
If the UK government were to sanction Abramovich, Chelsea as one of his assets, would be frozen. In this scenario, he would not be able to sell the club nor put any funds into it.
In a statement on the Premier League’s club site Wednesday, Abramovich said he has made the “incredibly difficult decision” to part with the club. He will not be “asking for any loans to be repaid” and all net proceeds from the sale will go to a foundation for the “benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.”
Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 for £140 million. After Chelsea’s latest public accounting on June 30, 2021, the club reported a loss of £145.6 million after tax and admitted they were “reliant on Fordstam Limited for its continued financial support.” Chelsea's latest accounts show Abramovich is owed around £1.5 billion in loans through parent company Fordstam Limited.
Abramovich has told potential buyers in the past that he valued the club at around £3 billion.
Sky news is reporting that Abramovich’s advisors at the Raine Group are expected to issue documents to prospective bidders, with a deadline set for mid-march. Selling a football club is not simple however, and could take months or years. The timing and speed of this announcement is unprecedented in football history.
Abramovich attempted to separate himself from the club over the weekend by releasing a statement that he was passing “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to its trustees.
Most expensive UK football club sales in history
- Manchester United - £780 million (May 2005)
- Newcastle United - £305 million (Oct 2021)
- Liverpool FC - £280 million (Oct 2010)
- Manchester City - £210 million (Sep 2008)
Could we, remarkably, see a new club take the top spot soon?
A problem for any potential buyer is the difficulty with renovating Stamford Bridge. The stadium only has a capacity of around 42,000, a little more than half the size of Manchester United’s Old Trafford, and Abramovich tried to buy back the freehold from a fans’ group called Chelsea Pitch Owners as part of his plans for a new stadium.
In 2018 planning permission was granted for the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, only for the plan to be shelved due to what was described as an “unfavorable investment climate.” This occurred around the time his UK investor visa expired.
The site’s freehold being held by Chelsea Pitch Owners would not therefore be included in any sale of the club.
With the sporting landscape adapting to across-the-board divesting of Russian backed money it will be interesting if the Premier League allows another group, like the Saudi-led consortium (PIF) who purchased Newcastle in October to have an outsized ownership stake in a Premier League club. With the geo-political situation clouded in uncertainty, the levels of risk associated with allowing foreign-backed money has increased especially considering the levers of foreign policy can force uncertainty over any club’s future.
Roman Abramovich changed the face of English football by taking over Chelsea in 2003, ushering in an era of significant spending the likes of which the Premier league had never seen. The “cup team” that had never seen any level of sustained success before elevated to becoming one of the most successful clubs of the Premier League era.
During Abramovich’s reign, Chelsea have won 20 major trophies including five Premier league titles, five FA Cups and three League Cups.
European trophies include two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, a Club World Cup and notably two Champions League titles in 2012 and 2021.
No English team has won more trophies than Chelsea since Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge.