Chelsea in turmoil: what next after Roman Abramovich sanctions?

Off-field chaos sees the sale of the Premier League club put on hold

Roman Abramovich holds the Fifa Club World Cup trophy after Chelsea’s 2-1 win against Palmeiras
Roman Abramovich holds the Fifa Club World Cup after Chelsea’s win over Palmeiras last month
(Image credit: Michael Regan/Fifa via Getty Images)

Given the week they’d had – losing a nail-biting Carabao Cup final to Liverpool, then finding out their club was up for sale – it was no surprise Chelsea began their match at Burnley last Saturday as if “wondering what was the point”, said Jonathan Liew in The Observer.

For 45 minutes, the Blues were poor, but two quick goals by Kai Havertz helped them to a 4-0 victory. Throughout the match, Chelsea fans chanted the name Roman Abramovich – even during a minute of applause to show solidarity for the Ukrainian people. The manager, Thomas Tuchel, was visibly displeased. This was not “the moment to do this”, he said.

Abramovich reportedly tried to sell the club for an asking price of £3bn, said Duncan Castles in The Sunday Times. It seems an astronomically high sum, given that Chelsea is a club with “inferior revenue streams” to Manchester United, which is thought to be worth about £1.5bn.

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Another huge issue is Stamford Bridge, which is in need of costly redevelopment, said Matt Law in The Daily Telegraph: it makes the real cost of a purchase even more expensive. On Thursday, the situation changed drastically when sanctions were imposed on Abramovich by the UK government.

Russian-born billionaire Abramovich is one of seven more oligarchs who have had sanctions placed on them in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sky News reported. A government document said Abramovich has had a “close relationship for decades” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

How will sanctions impact Chelsea and a potential sale?

As a result of the sanctions, the club’s income has been frozen. It is under an effective transfer embargo and it cannot even sell tickets to matches.

The future of the reigning European champions is “uncertain”, the BBC said. But a special licence allows the Stamford Bridge club to keep operating. The men’s and women’s teams can fulfil their fixtures for the rest of this season as normal and the licence allows wages to be paid to all employees, including players and coaching staff.

Abramovich can “no longer press ahead with selling the club”, said the Daily Mail. However, Chelsea can request “special dispensation”, which would be considered if the government views a change of ownership in the “best interests of the club”, provided it does not benefit Abramovich. “It effectively leaves Abramovich with two options: agree to the government’s conditions and lose the club for nothing, or let Chelsea slowly rot.”

Chelsea fan and British property tycoon Nick Candy has confirmed that he remains interested in buying the club, the Mail reported. “We are examining the details of the announcement and we are still interested in making a bid,” a spokesperson said. “Clearly this is a time of great uncertainty for all Chelsea fans. In our view no one is the owner of a football club – you are the custodian of it for the fans and the community.”

It’s not just Candy who is interested in buying Chelsea, The Daily Telegraph reported. New York-based merchant bank Raine, which is handling the sale, has received around 150 inquiries from individuals or groups claiming to be interested. The sanctioning of Abramovich is set to “spark a shootout” between three American-led groups who are bidding to “save Chelsea from the threat of financial armageddon”.

Chelsea FC flag

(Image credit: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

What about the sponsors?

Following Thursday’s developments, Chelsea could “lose millions” in sponsorship revenue, the Mail said. Telecoms firm Three has put its £40m shirt sponsorship on hold while fellow partners Hyundai, Parimatch and Zapp are also considering ending their agreements. A Three spokesperson said it had asked Chelsea to “temporarily suspend our sponsorship of the club, including the removal of our brand from shirts and around the stadium until further notice”.

The “off-field chaos” continued on Friday with “further news of unrest”, The Independent reported. Kit supplier Nike may also follow main sponsor Three in suspending its deal with the club. Nike agreed a 15-year, £900m deal with Chelsea in 2016 and should they walk away it would see the club miss out on £540m. Could the Nike deal be the “nail in Chelsea’s coffin?”, the Mail asked.

A club in turmoil – but Tuchel is holding it together

Chelsea are facing the “harsh reality of life after Abramovich”, said Miguel Delaney in The Independent. “The sanctions against the owner not only impact the here and now of the football club but its future too.”

Away from the financial woes there were positive results on the pitch for Chelsea’s senior teams on Thursday night. The men’s side beat Norwich 3-1 in the Premier League while the women’s team were 4-1 winners at West Ham in the WSL.

This may be “the crumbling of the Roman Empire”, but someone forgot to tell Chelsea manager Tuchel, James Robson said in the Evening Standard. Amid the “chaos, trauma and uncertainty”, the German is the man “holding it together in the eye of the storm”. Tuchel has emerged as the figurehead of a club that is in “desperate need of leadership”.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has been Chelsea owner since 2003

Roman Abramovich has been Chelsea owner since 2003
(Image credit: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

The glory years at Stamford Bridge

Since Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, they have won “every trophy available”, Planet Football said. Before his ownership, the Blues had won “just one top-flight title and five domestic cups in the 98 years before his arrival”.

The Blues have lifted 18 major trophies in the 19 years since the Russian arrived at Stamford Bridge. And last month the reigning Champions League holders completed the set by beating Palmeiras 2-1 in the Fifa Club World Cup final. They did, however, miss out on a domestic trophy after losing on penalties to Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley.

Chelsea’s trophies under Abramovich leave their English rivals behind, The Independent said. Under “Roman’s empire”, the trophy cabinet at the Bridge includes: five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions League titles, two Europa Leagues, two Community Shields, one Uefa Super Cup and now the Club World Cup.

How Abramovich made his money

Worth an estimated $12.3bn, according to Forbes’s real-time data, Abramovich’s interests include stakes in the steel giant Evraz and the Russian mining and smelting company Norilsk Nickel.

Abramovich’s story involves a “remarkable rise”, the Daily Mail said. Born a “penniless orphan” in Saratov, south-west Russia, he was brought up by his grandparents from the age of four. He first started out in business “flogging plastic dolls on a market stall” after dropping out of college.

The majority of his fortune is “derived from proceeds collected selling previously Russian state-owned assets he acquired following the fall of the Soviet Union”, Bloomberg said. In 2005, he sold a 73% stake in Russian oil firm Sibneft to state-owned Gazprom for $13bn, Forbes reported. Once Russia’s richest man, Abramovich’s net worth peaked at $23.5bn in 2008.

After his British investor visa expired in April 2018, Abramovich, who is Jewish, was granted Israeli citizenship. Last year he also gained EU citizenship via a Portuguese passport. He qualified under Portugal’s naturalisation scheme for descendants of Sephardic Jews, The Guardian reported.

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