Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich

Chelsea FC’s sale has hit a serious snag over fears current owner Roman Abramovich could reportedly go back on his pledge to write off £1.6bn of debt. 

The news comes with Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe still holding out hope of owning the Blues after submitting a £4.25bn bid on Friday – but American investor Todd Boehly remains in pole position. 

Yet a new report in The Times details that the club are understood to have told the government and all bidding groups that they want to restructure the selling process, including paying off the debt from the club’s parent company Fordstam Ltd to a Jersey-based company – Camberley International Investments – linked to the sanctioned Russian oligarch. 

Abramovich, who told of his intention to sell just days before being sanctioned by the UK government for his ties to Russia president Vladimir Putin, said he would ‘not be asking for any loans to be repaid.’ 

Yet he is now claiming, according to The Times, that the sanctions prevent him from writing off the debt, a claim which would be challenged by the government. 

Sources from rival bid groups, not that of preferred bidder Todd Boehly, said that they were informed the loan needed to be repaid on the sale of the club just ‘days’ before their final offers. 

The report adds that the government are ‘concerned about Chelsea’s ability to compete next season if a deal isn’t done in time to safeguard the club’s future.’

Nadine Dorries, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), said last week the club was on ‘borrowed time’ given the government’s licence expires on May 31 which is allowing the club to operate under Abramovich’s  ownership. 

Abramovich previously stated when putting the club up for sale: ‘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.’ 

The latest news comes as it emerges that prime minister Boris Johnson is reportedly considering giving some proceeds of the sale to grassroots football in the UK, yet the majority will still go towards supporting Ukraine. 

The British government are looking to avoid the proceeds of around £3billion sitting in a frozen bank account, given the sanctions against Abramovich.

Former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein has written to ministers asking for £750m of the sale to go towards grassroots football, with a focus on improving 20,000 playing surfaces, building more than 1,000 artificial pitches and renovating changing rooms. 

Writing to Dorries, Dein said: ‘While, to date, the focus has been on the buyers, there is a crucial question of where the proceeds from the sale go.

‘Without question, the victims of the war in Ukraine should be central in our thoughts and anything we can do to use this sale money to support humanitarian efforts should be welcomed.

‘Investment in coaching, pitches, academies and facilities in deprived and left-behind areas could be game-changing for communities and young people.

‘It could help to create a new generation of English football stars while also supporting community cohesion, new jobs, reducing youth crime and helping grow and develop girls’ and women’s football. 

‘These are all cross-government priorities and I hope that Her Majesty’s government may be able to work together to create a game-changing opportunity.’

The Football Foundation charity has held talks with a senior adviser to Johnson, David Canzini, about Dein’s proposal. 

Meanwhile, Boehly is currently in a five-day period of negotiations about buying the club, after the bids of Steve Pagluica and Sir Martin Broughton were rejected last week. 

Yet Ratcliffe’s offer at the 11th-hour is, according to the Evening Standard, still seen as a ‘viable option’ by insiders, with US merchant bank Raine Group still in the process of confirming the new owner to take over from Abramovich.  

The report in the Standard details that Ratcliffe is believed to have bypassed Raine in making his offer, thus avoiding the original complexities of submitting a bid. 

Ratcliffe, the owner of INEOS who have investments in F1 constructors champions Mercedes, Ligue 1 side Nice and cycling team INEOS Grenadiers, was formerly interested in taking over at Stamford Bridge before he joined the process late in the day.