KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Just over one month ago Chelsea were on top of the world. The Blues were the reigning European champions and had just won the FIFA Club World Cup. They were also sitting comfortably in third place in the Premier League and still in the FA Cup.
That was February 12. On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military invasion of Ukraine and everything changed.
The next day the UK government ordered the first phase of financial sanctions against oligarchs with business and property interests in London. Surprisingly these did not include Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, long known as a “person of interest” to the security service for his links to Putin.
But the writing was on the wall. On February 27 Abramovich, rarely seen in London since withdrawing a visa application in 2018, announced that he was handing control of Chelsea to the club’s charity foundation. He said this was to “protect the club”.
The idea was a non-starter.
Abramovich then decided to sell the club but, on Chelsea’s 117th birthday last Thursday, he was named among seven wealthy Russians whose commercial and personal assets and activities were frozen. This included Chelsea.
The club remain in business only under special licence because of the club’s ‘cultural significance’. This allows Chelsea to access contracted TV revenue and eventual UEFA and Premier League prize money.
Hyundai and mobile phone company 3 have suspended their sponsorships.
What now for Abramovich?
Abramovich, 55, bought Chelsea in 2003. He has provided loans of around £1.4bn to buy many of the best players in the world who have rewarded his investment with 19 major trophies. He is barred from entering the UK, has been disqualified from being a company director and is thought to be currently at sea on one of his super-yachts. Some Chelsea fans still chant his name at matches, to general political and media disapproval.
What now for the club?
A sale of the club can go ahead but only as long as Abramovich does not benefit financially. Negotiations will be complex. Chelsea need a quick sale because they cannot generate any income. A wages bill of £25m-a-month threatens eventual bankruptcy. They cannot sell any new match tickets or merchandise, corporate credit cards have been frozen and the Stamford Bridge hotel has been shut. Under the licence Chelsea can spend ‘only’ £900,000 on hosting matches and £20,000 on travelling to away games.
What now for the players?
All the players (and the club’s 800 staff) will continue to be paid. However no new players can be acquired and the club cannot negotiate contract renewals with stars such as Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen who are out of contract in June. Players who may be unhappy at the club, such as Timo Werner, cannot be sold. Manager Thomas Tuchel said: “Some players will feel uncertainties, some will maybe be a bit frightened, some will be concerned, it’s normal. It’s also not only about the players, we have a lot of people on the staff and in the club who are maybe also worried and scared and uncertain. We did not cause the situation, we cannot solve the situation.”
What now for Thomas Tuchel?
Thomas Tuchel has dealt impressively with a situation which has changed dramatically from one day to another. He has said he is “happy” to continue to work at Chelsea. However his success at Stamford Bridge will prompt other big clubs to consider trying to lure him away, notably Manchester United.