Roman Abramovich watching Chelsea in 2014.

The conversation about Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea has escalated quickly. After Abramovich was mentioned by Labour MB Chris Bryant as a potential target for sanctions, including with Chelsea, he said last week he would hand over “stewardship and care” of the club to its charitable foundation. But, as Rory Smith and Tariq Panja of The New York Times wrote Wednesday, that announcement took those trustees by surprise and could be a complicated process, which now has Abramovich “actively seeking” to sell the team instead:

Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch whose vast fortune transformed Chelsea into a global soccer powerhouse, is actively seeking to sell the team, setting a deadline of Friday for interested parties to submit “indicative offers” for the club he has owned for almost two decades. He is seeking at least $2.5 billion for the club.

Only days ago, Abramovich, 55, had announced his intention to transfer the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea to members of its charitable foundation. The move — in which he notably did not suggest he would surrender ownership of Chelsea — was seemingly designed to distance the club from the impact of any possible sanctions levied by the British government against him as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

…Though Abramovich suggested in a rare public statement that the Chelsea foundation trustees were best placed to “look after the interests of the club, players, staff and fans,” he has in recent days tasked the Raine Group, a New York advisory firm, with identifying a new owner for the team. Prospective investors have been informed they must have prepared an outline of their bid by the end of this week.

That piece goes on to spotlight two potential bidders, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and American billionaire Todd Boehly. Boehly is the chairman and CEO of holding company Eldridge Industries; he’s also a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers, and Sparks, the chairman of MRC (which owns Dick Clark Productions, Billboard, and The Hollywood Reporter), and the interim chair of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He reportedly tried to buy Chelsea in 2019 for $2.9 billion, but was turned down. He was also reportedly Steve Baldwin’s initial choice to buy the NWSL’s Washington Spirit before Y. Michele Kang gained a controlling interest there, leading to an eventual official sale to Kang last month.

Meanwhile, Wyss is the founder and former president of medical device manufacturer Synthes Holding AG, and is known for his donations to environmental and scientific causes. And he had some interesting things to say about Chelsea to Swiss newspaper Blick (translated by Smith and Panja):

[Wyss] told the Swiss newspaper Blick that he was among a group of four people to have “received an offer to buy Chelsea” on Tuesday. Wyss insisted that he would not buy the club alone, and would prefer to be a part of a consortium of “six or seven investors.”

“Abramovich is trying to sell all his villas in England; he also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly,” Wyss told Blick. “Abramovich is currently asking far too much. You know, Chelsea owe him £2 billion. But Chelsea has no money. As of today, we don’t know the exact selling price.”

Indeed, as discussed in our previous coverage of this, Abramovich (seen at top at a 2014 match) has reportedly loaned £2 billion to the club. So that’s certainly going to be a complicating factor in any sale. Also, as per Smith and Panja, Chelsea lost more than $200 million last season (when they won the Champions League), and any takeover that comes with a plan to dramatically cut spending would likely face some major pushback from fans. So there may be quite a few developments ahead before any sale. But it is notable that this has now gone to Abramovich actually seeking bids.

Update: Abramovich added quite a statement on Chelsea’s website, saying he wouldn’t seek to recover loans and he would donate the “net proceeds” of the sale to a charitable foundation “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”:

I would like to address the speculation in media over the past few days in relation to my ownership of Chelsea FC. As I have stated before, 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. Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.

Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the Club in this manner. However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the Club.

[The New York Times; photo from Brian Minkoff/London Pixels, via Wikipedia]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.