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Life after Abramovich: The contenders for the Chelsea takeover

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich stunned the football world when putting the Premier League giants up for sale before he was slapped with sanctions by the UK government. 

A deal is still possible if the British authorities give it the green light and Abramovich doesn’t benefit in any way, with some reports claiming there are as many as 200 interested parties as the bidding deadline imposed by the Raine Group (the US bank tasked with handling the sale) ticks closer to closing at 9pm UK time on Friday.

That figure of 200 potential buyers seems somewhat implausible though, and while there may well be bids concealed behind the scenes, we look at some of the known frontrunners possibly positioned to assume control at the reigning world and European champions. 

The Saudi Media Group

Reports on Monday claimed that the Saudi Media Group (SMG) had tabled a $3.5 billion offer which, though below Abramovich’s purported asking price of £3-4 billion ($4-5.2 billion), might be among the best Chelsea get. 

Saudi Arabia’s biggest media company boasts annual revenues of $1 billion, and will probably require backing from elsewhere in the kingdom, while owned by Chelsea fan Mohamed Alkhereiji who once worked as an analyst at Deutsche Bank.

The SMG claims not to benefit from any state investment, and while the SMG is not owned by the Saudi government, royal family member Mohammed bin Khalid Al Saud is said to be helping find funding.

Khalid Al Saud is chair of the state-owned Saudi Telecom Company (STC), which the Public Investment Fund (PIF) with a majority ownership of Newcastle United has shares in, though, which could also raise conflicts of interest concerns.

Such matters could also result in a time delay that will work against the SMG, as it took 17 weeks for the Premier League to approve the PIF’s takeover of Newcastle in November.

Hansjorg Wyss, Todd Boehly and Jonathan Goldstein

Swiss billionaire Wyss’ name was linked to Chelsea days before Abramovich officially put the club he has owned since 2003 up for sale, with Wyss initially triggering rumors Abramovich would do so with claims made to compatriot newspaper Blick.

He is joined by another billionaire in American Boehly, who reportedly once lodged a £2.2 billion ($2.9 billion) proposal knocked back by Abramovich in 2019, and Goldstein, whose investment firm Cain Hoy failed to take over Tottenham Hotspur in 2014.

It is believed that the trio have secured at least £2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) for their bid, which has been endorsed by American PR executive and music industry heavyweight Barbara Charone, plus British journalist Daniel Finkelstein, who are both Chelsea fans. 

Nick Candy

British property tycoon Candy publicly threw his hat into the ring early, and claims to be a Chelsea fanatic whose father was once asked to play for the club.

His £2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) proposal is endorsed by Chelsea legend Gianluca Vialli, and though Candy needs to form a consortium to raise all the funds, he has reportedly refused to join Wyss, Boehly and Goldstein given that Goldstein supports rivals Spurs.

“There are no talks underway with Nick Candy and the Todd Boehly and Jonathan Goldstein consortium, not least because Mr. Candy does not want a lifelong Spurs fan as part of the future ownership of Chelsea Football Club,” said a spokesperson to the Press Association.

Tom Ricketts and Ken Griffin

The Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family confirmed their interest in buying Chelsea on Wednesday through a statement, with CBS reporting their bid is “well in excess of $3 billion”.

“As long-time operators of an iconic professional sports team, the Ricketts Family and their partners understand the importance of investing for success on the pitch, while respecting the traditions of the club, the fans and the community,” it read.

Indeed, since taking over the Cubs in 2009 for $845 million, the Ricketts family have overseen the MLB outfit quadrupling in value and also ended their torturous record 108-year wait for a third World Series pennant.

The Ricketts aren’t known to be big spenders, however, but an alliance with hedge fund manager and Republican Party donor Ken Griffin worth a reported $27 billion could help land the big signings required to deliver success in elite football.

Their bid will be made before Friday, however the Daily Mail reports that Chelsea’s Muslim players such as Antonio Rudiger, N’Golo Kante, Malang Sarr and Hakim Ziyech, would be made uncomfortable by the Ricketts family taking over considering leaked emails where their head Joe described Muslims as his “enemy”.

Woody Johnson

Johnson may have one of the lowest main bids at a rumored £2 billion ($2.6 billion), yet his strong links to the UK, where he was the American Ambassador from 2017 to 2021 during Donald Trump’s reign, might provide him with reasons for optimism.

The heir of pharmaceutical fortune Johnson & Johnson has demonstrated his sports management nous in how his New York Jets have grown in European popularity with regular-season games often played at Wembley, and any takeover from the 74-year-old will see a strong connection built between his NFL franchise and Chelsea.

Sebastian Coe and Sir Martin Broughton

World Athletics head and Chelsea supporter Coe joined ex-British Airways chairman Broughton’s bid this week, with their partnership curious yet built on strong foundations.

Broughton is forever connected to Chelsea rivals Liverpool given his part in the Fenway Sports Groups’ takeover of the Reds, and he also served as chairman of the Scouse club in 2010.

On the other hand, Coe has links to Abramovich after acting as a consultor to the club. His close relationship with current Bruce Buck could also prove a determining factor in addition to his ties to the UK government given his time as Tory MP before becoming a member of the House of Lords.

“I am certain that Sir Martin is the right man to lead Chelsea Football Club into its next chapter,” said Coe when announcing their teaming-up. 

“He has an exceptional track record in British business, as well as unrivaled experience in shepherding Liverpool out of a very difficult situation,” Coe continued, guaranteeing that Broughton “has the vision, acumen and financial backing to ensure our club’s future success, keeping Chelsea Football Club at the top of European football and challenging for trophies.”

“But most importantly, like me, he is a lifelong Chelsea supporter and Shed End season-ticket holder. I know that this bid is for the millions of Chelsea fans around the world. We love our club and will always put the fans first,” Coe concluded.

At present, it is unknown how much Broughton and Coe are putting forward in their bid.

Aethel Partners

Aethel Partners are a private equity firm who like Johnson have already lodged a £2 billion ($2.6 billion) offer with the additional promise of an immediate £50 million ($66m million) to relieve short-term cash flow issues that have arisen at Chelsea amid the UK government’s sanctions.

Their proposal is meant to appease Chelsea fans with top priorities including holding on to manager Thomas Tuchel, who Manchester United are reportedly interested in snatching away, and renovating Stamford Bridge.

Founded by Portuguese businessman Ricardo Santos Silva and American partner Aba Schubert,  Aethel already have a London HQ and were established in 2014.

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