KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Roman Abramovich is selling Chelsea. The Russian oligarch made a formal announcement about his ownership of the world and European champions in his haste to evade the threat of personal financial sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 55-year-old, who bought the club in 2003 and turned Chelsea into one of the most powerful outfits in world football, has said he does not want to reclaim any of the £1.4bn which he has provided in personal loans over the years. This should help smooth a sale.
At the weekend Abramovich proposed handing day-to-day control of the club to its charitable foundation but this would be unlikely to satisfy charity and legal controls.
A statement from Abramovich said: “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. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and club.
Abramovich has also ordered his office to set up a charitable foundation “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine.” He added: “This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.”
The decision had been “incredibly difficult” and he said “it pains me to part with the club in this manner.”
In the UK Parliament earlier Prime Minister Boris Johnson was urged to step up sanctions against Abramovich who was once considered close to Putin but who has denied claims that he bought Chelsea originally at the Russian President’s suggestion.
Abramovich is also trying to sell a London apartment as well his £152m mansion not far from Buckingham Palace. Yesterday Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss told the newspaper Blick he was a member of a consortium interested in buying the club but claimed: “Abramovich is currently asking too much.”
Previous bids for Chelsea of up to £2.2bn have been rejected but Abramovich is obviously now ready to think again before his assets in the UK are seized by the government.
Abramovich’s funding has financed the acquisition of many of the world’s best players who have won 19 major titles but, in 2019, he was identified as “a person of interest” by the UK government because of his alleged links to the Russian state and “public association with corrupt activity and practices.”
He was unable to renew his UK visa but his Jewish heritage enabled him to obtain an Israeli passport. Now he also has Portuguese and thus European Union citizenship.
Abramovich was seen back at Stamford Bridge in October 2021 for a Say No To Anti-Semitism event and watched Chelsea in action in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United in November. He was in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup final win on February 12.
Manager Thomas Tuchel has insisted he was not affected in his day-to-day running of the football team by the Ukraine crisis. However he is growing impatient at being pressed on the issue at press conferences.
Tuchel, questioned ahead of the FA Cup-tie against Luton, said: “Listen, you have to stop. I am not a politician. You have to stop, honestly. I can only repeat it. And I even feel bad to repeat it because I never experienced war. So even to talk about it I feel bad because I am very privileged. I sit here in peace and I do the best I can but I have no answers for you.”
Another oligarch under pressure is Alisher Usmanov the Uzbek-born billionaire who has significant influence at Everton. The club has suspended the sponsorship by Usmanov’s USM Holdings of the club’s training ground and naming rights deal for the new stadium. The club also cancelled deals with other Russian companies Megafon and Yota.
Usmanov had his assets frozen and a travel ban imposed by the European Union on Monday as a “pro-Kremlin oligarch with particularly close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Various demonstrations in support of Ukraine have been staged by clubs and fans including the ‘Football Stands Together’ signage on the blue-and-yellow stadium screens at the League Cup Final on Sunday.
On Tuesday Oleksandr Zinchenko wore the captain’s armband for Manchester City’s FA victory away to Peterborough. The Ukraine defender had joined an anti-war vigil in Manchester last week and shared a social media statement demanding a sporting ban on Russia and all its athletes.