Roman Abramovich-Chelsea FC sale: Hansjörg Wyss among buyers circling around as doubts over ownership grow

Interested parties are circling Chelsea in the belief that Roman Abramovich could be about to end his 19-year ownership of the Premier League giants.

Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss was the first to publicly declare he was in conversations over a possible bid for the club, though complained that Abramovich’s valuation is too high. The 86-year-old also claimed that three other parties had been approached over buying Chelsea.

Abramovich is believed to be ready to consider offers for the west London club, who he bought in 2003 and from whom he is owed around $2 billion in debt, amid an increasingly hostile environment toward him and other Russian oligarchs in light of their country’s invasion of Ukraine. The British government is so far yet to make sanctions against the 55-year-old, who it has also been claimed is looking to sell his Kensington mansion.

Speaking to Swiss publication Blick, Wyss revealed that he had been asked to join a consortium of “six or seven investors” to take the club off Abramovich’s hands. “Abramovich is trying to sell all his villas in England, he also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly,” Wyss said. “I and three other people received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich. I have to wait four to five days now. Abramovich is currently asking far too much. You know, Chelsea owe him £2 billion. But Chelsea have no money. As of today, we don’t know the exact selling price.”

The identity of any other interested parties is not yet clear, but Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, has long been linked with a potential takeover of Chelsea.

The seemingly escalating speed of a possible sale comes the day after British MP Chris Bryant, chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Russia, used parliamentary privilege to claim that Abramovich was already selling off property in London due to fear of sanctioning. “The danger is that Mr. Abramovich will have sold everything by the time we get round to sanctioning him,” Bryant added.

Leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s questions to say of Abramovich: “He is a person of interest to the Home Office because of his links to the Russian state and public association with corrupt activities and practices. Last week the prime minister said Abramovich is facing sanctions, he later corrected the record to say he isn’t. Why on earth isn’t he?” Boris Johnson did not comment.

The looming threat of sanctions could intensify efforts to secure a deal. Equally, if Abramovich’s assets were to be frozen, the most likely action that the U.K. government would take, he would be unable to sell Chelsea.

On Saturday, Abramovich announced he was passing over “stewardship” of Chelsea to the trustees of its charitable board though that process has been mired in confusion ever since. The Charity Commission confirmed to CBS Sports that it had been in contact with the Chelsea Foundation over a possible serious incident while the process of transferring power has not yet been fully complete.

It has also been questioned whether the relatively nebulous concept of “stewardship” but not ownership being passed on by the Russian billionaire would shield Chelsea from any possible sanctions.

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What would Chelsea look like with a new owner?

It is a question that is, of course, difficult to answer without first addressing the question: Who is the new owner? For the time being, that can only be a matter of speculation; Wyss himself acknowledged that he is not the only interested party. What one can do is try to imagine what Chelsea might look like without Abramovich at the helm.

His interest has waxed and waned since he arrived in English football with an almighty thud as his wallet slammed down on the table. Chelsea were a significant figure in the Premier League before he arrived, they are now a European superpower who compete in the biggest matches, for whom a season without silverware is rarely anything less than a disaster.

It has often be said that Financial Fair Play saw the richest clubs pull the ladder up on those who might have followed. Abramovich’s influence means Chelsea are in the upper echelon. They were ranked eighth in the most recent Deloitte Football Money League — a ranking of football clubs by revenue generated from football operations — prior to the COVID-19 pandemic their 2019 accounts had shown around $600 million in revenue. There is also a relatively youthful playing staff that promise to drive revenue through their on-field performance.

The one asset Chelsea do not have that so many other European powers do is a sizeable stadium. At a capacity of 41,837, Stamford Bridge is significantly eclipsed by Old Trafford, Anfield and the grounds of London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. Such is the broadcasting power of the Premier League that matchday revenue is not the driver of success it once was, but the Blues still took home around $40 million less in 2019 stadium earnings than Manchester United. Chelsea do not own their pitch and it would be impossible for any prospective owner to move without fan backing. Abramovich had proposed an ambitious overhaul that would have expanded the capacity in what is a relatively small plot of west London real estate but that has fallen by the wayside.

Whether such grand projects would be picked up by Abramovich’s successor is for now unknowable. As is how they would approach the moments when fans look to their owners, not least transfer windows and managerial changes. What nearly two decades of footballing history has told us is that there are few current owners out there who are as decisive and demanding as the Russian. 

While other owners hunkered down amid the COVID-19 storm of 2020, Chelsea swung for the fences with the signings of Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner among others. He has consistently furnished head coaches with the most expensive new players and demands for elegant, front-footed and trophy-laden football to go with it. Turbulence and sizeable expenditure have defined this club’s recent history just as much as its Premier League and Champions League triumphs. If Abramovich goes, the environment will surely not be the same.

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