Roman Abramovich’s attempts to sell Chelsea halted after UK freezes assets | chelsea

Chelsea and their players have been thrown into a state of uncertainty after the UK government imposed sanctions on Roman Abramovich, putting the sale of the club on hold and leaving the European champions at risk of falling into financial difficulty.

The Guardian understands that some of the players are concerned about the direction of the club, and by extension their own future, and are in desperate need of clarity. They are alarmed as one of the stipulations resulting from the sanctions is that Chelsea cannot sign players or renew existing contracts. A dressing room source said it was “chaos” with people fearing the club could go into administration.

The men’s team has three important first-team players whose contracts are due to end this summer: César Azpilicueta, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen. The women’s team has five team members whose contracts expire at the end of the season: Ann-Katrin Berger, Maren Mjelde, Jonna Andersson, Ji So-yun and Drew Spence.

Christensen has reportedly agreed in principle to join Barcelona as a free agent. But other members of the squads – the men’s and women’s squads, including some who are on loan – are worried about how the restrictions will affect the next phases of their careers. Neither the men’s coach, Thomas Tuchel nor the women’s coach, Emma Hayes are currently considering their future at the club.

Chelsea have confirmed that their men’s side’s Premier League game against Norwich on Thursday night will go ahead. The club have been granted a special license which will allow them to fulfill their commitments, but face an uncertain future after Abramovich’s assets were frozen due to the oligarch’s alleged links to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

Broadcasting and prize money will be frozen and the license is limited to “football-related activities”, leading to bans on signing players and new contracts – and other commercial restrictions. This means Abramovich will need UK government approval before selling the Stamford Bridge club.

Chelsea face Norwich at Carrow Road on Thursday, before Newcastle visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Abramovich, who came under intense scrutiny after Russia invaded Ukraine, will not be allowed to profit from the sale of Chelsea. Government sources have said they are prepared to consider applying for a new license which would allow a new owner at Stamford Bridge if a suitable offer emerges, although there is no clarity as to where the money will go. of any sale at this time.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “The significant measures announced will clearly have a direct impact on Chelsea FC and its fans, but we are working hard to ensure that the club and the national game are not unnecessarily harmed. We have granted the club a license so that they can organize their fixtures, pay their staff and that existing ticket holders can attend the matches. We know that football clubs are cultural assets and we are committed to protecting them.

Discussions are continuing between the Treasury, the Premier League and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. A source said: “The main thing today is to take action against oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin. We are working on some of these wider implications, including around a potential sale at this time. »

It is understood that the decision to sanction Abramovich, which was announced Thursday morning, did not deter potential bidders. Sources say a consortium led by Todd Boehly and Hansjörg Wyss have not ended their interest in buying Chelsea. British property tycoon Nick Candy has also been working on putting together an offer and representatives for Muhsin Bayrak have said the Turkish businessman remains committed to buying the club.

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    At the moment, however, Chelsea are in turmoil. Abramovich cannot put money into the club or take it out. The 55-year-old has given Chelsea £1.5bn in loans since they were bought in 2003. The club’s latest accounts showed a loss of £145.6m in the last financial year, although that has been attributed to the impact of the pandemic. Financing is provided by Fordstam Limited, a company owned by Abramovich. As one source put it: “Who would buy a club with a £1.5billion loan hanging over it?”

    It is recognized that the license could be reviewed and changes could be made once Chelsea have had time to explain their costs to the authorities. But in its current format, the license will force Chelsea to operate under heavy restrictions. They cannot sell match tickets and merchandise sales have been banned, with the club shop closed. Only season ticket holders and those who have already purchased their tickets will be allowed to attend matches, but the catering facilities at Stamford Bridge will remain open.

    The license states: “The remuneration, allowances and pensions of all club employees, including the salaries of players and coaching staff…are payable under obligations prior to the date of this license and are due during the term of this license.” The license also allows for ‘reasonable travel expenses’ to and from matches up to a maximum of £20,000, raising questions over how Chelsea will travel to France for the second leg of their Round of 16 fixture. Champions League against Lille next Wednesday.

    Chelsea can also spend up to £500,000 per game on ‘reasonable costs’ such as security, stewardship and catering. They can continue payments to and from other clubs for transfers and existing loan deals, broadcasters can show their games, and third parties who already have club merchandise in stock can sell it ‘provided no funds or other financial benefit is made available to the club” or Abramovich.

    Security guards erected barricades outside an official Chelsea merchandise store near Stamford Bridge
    Security guards set up barricades outside an official Chelsea merchandise store near Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

    Chelsea’s main shirt sponsor, mobile phone network Three, has confirmed it is reviewing its relationship with the club. The deal is believed to be worth £40million a year.

    The UK has targeted Abramovich as part of its response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. In a document released by the government on Thursday morning, the owner of Chelsea was identified as “a pro-Kremlin oligarch” and was allegedly “associated with someone who is or has been involved in the destabilization of Ukraine and in the attack and threat to territorial integrity”. , sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, namely Vladimir Putin, with whom Abramovich has had close relations for decades”.

    The document says Abramovich has had a close relationship with the Russian president “for decades” and that the association has brought him financial benefits. Abramovich has repeatedly and vehemently denied that he was connected to Putin or the Russian state, or that he had done anything to deserve punishment.

    The government said: “This association has included obtaining financial or other material benefit from Putin and the Russian government. This includes tax breaks received by companies linked to Abramovich, the purchase and sale of stocks from and to the state at favorable rates, and contracts received in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup. Abramovich received preferential treatment and concessions from Putin and the Russian government.

    It has also been claimed that Abramovich “has been involved in the destabilization of Ukraine through Evraz PLC, a steel and mining company in which Abramovich has a significant stake and on which [he] exercises effective control… [this] potentially includes supplying steel to the Russian military that could have been used in tank production.

    Abramovich, whose Chelsea have won 21 trophies, put the club up for sale last week. He appointed New York-based bank Raine Group to oversee the process. There has been speculation that Chelsea’s next owners will come from America. Woody Johnson, the owner of the NFL’s New York Jets, is reportedly preparing an offer. Thomas Ricketts, president of MLB’s Chicago Cubs, was mentioned and Josh Harris, whose companies own the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, was reported, though his stake in Crystal Palace could be a complicating factor.

    A Chelsea Supporters’ Trust spokesman said: ‘CST notes with concern the Government’s statement regarding the owner. Supporters should be involved in any conversation regarding the ongoing impacts on the club and its global fanbase. CST implores the government to carry out a swift process to minimize uncertainty over Chelsea’s future, for supporters and supporters to receive a share of the gold as part of a sale of the club.

    When Abramovich put the club up for sale, he said he would not call on his loans and announced his intention to use the sale of Chelsea to donate funds to war victims in Ukraine. However, this fund was not intended only for Ukrainians, which raises the possibility that money will go to Russian soldiers or their families.

    Abramovich’s spokesperson has been approached for comment.

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