When Petr Cech gathered Chelsea’s first-team squad together in the gym at the Cobham training ground on Thursday, his message was unequivocal: nothing changes, not in the short term, nor in the medium term.
‘We know what our targets are,’ said Cech. ‘Don’t be anxious. Don’t listen to outside voices. Stick together. The support staff you have around you here at Chelsea are the best in the world. They know what they’re doing. We know how to win. It’s business as usual.’
On one level, it was spot on. The season continues, Chelsea won 4-0 at Burnley on Saturday, they have a Champions League title to defend and an FA Cup quarter-final later this month. There is much to play for, with a strong squad and an excellent manager. Nothing will immediately change.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is selling the club and wants £3billion for his prized asset
Set to splash the cash for Chelsea?
A pack of mega-rich suitors are jostling for position to buy Chelsea after Roman Abramovich said he was selling up. Here are some of the names in the frame.
Nick Candy: Property tycoon, husband of pop star and former Neighbours actress Holly Valance and lifelong Chelsea fan. Owns a luxury home in Chelsea. He and brother Christian are estimated to be worth more than £1.5billion. Likely rating: 4/10.
Conor McGregor: Irish mixed martial artist who earned £100m for a fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Also made money in whiskey and is a self-confessed Manchester United fan. Likely rating: 2/10.
Todd Boehly/Hansjorg Wyss: Boehly is a businessman and part owner of the LA Dodgers baseball team. Wyss is a Swiss billionaire who made his fortune in manufacturing medical equipment and devices. Wyss has a net worth of just under £5bn. Likely rating: 6/10.
Muhsin Bayrak: Turkish billionaire and head of construction giant, AB Group, which has investments in London. Has strong ties to Turkey’s ruling political party, the JDP. Bayrak is believed to be worth £8bn. Likely rating: 5/10.
Thomas Ricketts: Chicago Cubs chairman who made his fortune in investment. Once owned a minor share in Derby and four years ago fronted up a bid to buy AC Milan. The Ricketts family is one of the top-100 richest families in America. Likely rating: 5/10.
RedBird Capital Partners: Manhattan-based private equity company who already have an 11 per cent stake in Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners. They would have to sell that in order to take ownership of another Premier League club. Likely rating: 4/10.
And, yet everything has changed for ever at Chelsea and astonishingly so in the space of a week.
Just three weeks ago, Roman Abramovich embraced his manager Thomas Tuchel on the pitch of the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi as Chelsea claimed the Club World Cup, the only significant trophy that had eluded him in his 19 years at the club.
It seemed a perfect moment, the 21st trophy of his custodianship (if you count two Community Shields). Finally, he really had won it all.
It was just a week ago that Abramovich still thought that passing the club into the stewardship of the trustees might be enough to protect it from his alleged ties with Vladimir Putin, which he deines, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
By Wednesday, that plan had already unravelled and a fire sale was in progress. On Monday, the House of Commons will consider the Economic Crime Bill, which is likely to make it easier for the Government to sanction Abramovich.
As such, nothing will ever be the same at Chelsea again. They rode the first wave of the sportswashing that swept the Premier League in early years of the 21st century. Now it is unclear whether they can catch a second break or if the club will be able to keep their head above water in choppy seas.
There are divergent views on the attractiveness of Chelsea. On the plus side, it is the ultimate trophy asset.
It may not have the cachet of Manchester United and Liverpool in terms of history, but they have won two Champions League trophies and there is no sporting entity on the globe that has such a prime location for international investors.
Stamford Bridge outstrips Parc des Princes, Paris, for glamour and only the Santiago Bernabeu comes close in terms of prestige postcodes and that club is never for sale.
‘This is the most significant sports sale of the decade,’ said one sports executive who has worked in the Premier League and with US sports’ franchise owners.
Any old billionaire can own a luxury yacht and private jet. A top-six Premier League club is a rare status symbol.
But you don’t get the freehold to Stamford Bridge and nor can you move the club without permission from the fans. And the 41,837 capacity stadium is limited and in need of an upgrade.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the petrochemicals billionaire, looked at buying Chelsea in 2019, when Anglo-Russian relations already meant that Abramovich was preparing for this doomsday. Ratcliffe decided neither Chelsea nor the Premier League offered value so his company, Ineos, bought OGC Nice in France instead.
The self-declared front-runners have been Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss (left) and Todd Boehly (right)
Bob Ratcliffe, his brother, runs the company’s football division and told The Mail on Sunday that they won’t be looking at Chelsea again.
‘Is Chelsea really a fire sale?’ said Ratcliffe. ‘I’m not sure. That’s a good story but I’m sure it’s still a very big number. When we looked at the bigger Premier League clubs, the total of the Premier League made £500million pre-tax operating profits for all the clubs.
‘So these valuations [of £3billion], people have never paid these valuations. The current owners didn’t pay that much for the clubs. They’re still very difficult for us to reconcile. You’re talking about numbers which, in a normal business sense, you wouldn’t go near.
‘When we looked at Chelsea, we didn’t have a club then, now we have a club in European competition. You have seen what my brother said in the past. We don’t want to be dumb money. We look at what we paid for Nice for European competition, it’s nothing like what you pay in the UK.’
Others concur on the £3bn valuation Abramovich put on Chelsea. ‘Why would anyone play close to £3bn?’ said one investment banker involved in football.
‘Why would they be that stupid? It is a fire sale. BP has just written off around £20bn investment in Rosneft [its 20 per cent stake in the Russian company].
‘Business people have egos but they’re not complete idiots. Why would you do that? It isn’t Manchester United or Liverpool in terms of global brand. Liverpool would not be worth £3bn and they have a refurbished stadium, squad and huge global brand.’
The Russian is selling amid his country’s invasion of Ukraine led by Vladimir Putin (right)
The self-declared front-runners have been Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and his partner, Todd Boehly, part owner of LA Dodgers. Wyss agrees on the price being too high.
The 86-year-old is also a politicised figure, who would align neutral Switzerland much more clearly with the West and even this week described Abramovich as one of the ‘closest advisors and friends to Putin’ and said he was ‘like all the oligarchs in a panic,’ a bullish approach designed to apply pressure.
Abramovich denies the association.
Others have gone public on interest, such as Turkish businessman Muhsin Bayrak, who also recently claimed he would buy US Vice- President Kamala Harris’s flat.
‘The people who buy this are probably right now working with Rothschild, JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs and they aren’t making any noise,’ said a sports executive who has worked on takeovers.
That said, there are some investment banks queasy about financing a deal if it is perceived that the proceeds end up with Putin, something Abramovich has always denied.
He has vowed that the ‘net proceeds’ will be donated to victims of war, though that appears to be Russians as well as Ukrainians.
The new owners will start from a good base, not least a team that hold the Champions League
Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, said: ‘People linked to Putin who have accumulated wealth in controversial ways shouldn’t be able to just sell off their assets and bank the cash.
‘A bonanza pay day for the bankers handling the sales only adds to the ugliness of the spectacle and strengthens the argument that the UK has historically had a pretty spineless and self-serving attitude to Russian money.’
Joe Ravitch, the co-founder of the investment bank The Raine Group, charged with finding a buyer, claims they have time to hold out for higher bids.
‘We are not going to rush anything,’ he told Reuters. ‘It is very important Chelsea have the right owner to guide the club forward.’ That’s all very well but if Monday’s legislation brings sanctions a step closer, the clock really is ticking on Abramovich to sell.
Numerous Blues supporters have been supportive of Abramovich despite alleged ties to Putin
For Chelsea, there is the small matter of life without the £1.5bn loans he is writing off.
The club have lost £896m in the last 19 years under Abramovich and though the last five years’ figures look more balanced, Covid losses notwithstanding, it is not clear that Chelsea will ever again operate at the financial level to which their Russian owner elevated them.
Analysts believe a new owner is most likely to come from US sports franchise owners. The new owners will start from a good base, not least a team that hold the Champions League with a smart coach in tow.
They have a thriving academy, with the next generation off the production line including Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja.
Chelsea have a hugely effective system of farming out loan players, which has helped Chelsea develop players like Mason Mount and raise funds. Romelu Lukaku was essentially bought from the proceeds of academy sales.
Chelsea also have one of the world’s best coaches in Thomas Tuchel leading the club
But that is a complex, finely tuned operation overseen by academy manager Neil Bath, who will stay, and Marina Granovskaia, the managing director, who is the eyes and ears of Abramovich at Chelsea.
She came from Russia as the head of the team of secretaries at the club when Abramovich took over in 2003 and has risen to become arguably the most powerful woman in English football. But, given her ties to Abramovich, it seems inconceivable she would stay.
Cech, the technical and performance adviser, has also been critical in those operations in recent years. Again, it would be wise to retain him if you want the Chelsea model to carry on regardless.
But new owners generally means new people. Chelsea have entered a period of seismic change even if they can continue unaffected in the short term. And nothing can be the same again after Putin’s war.