Chelsea are set to play in their fifth FA Cup final across the last six seasons against Liverpool on May 14 — and while they are close to achieving success on the field, their off-field situation was a lot more complicated in 2021-22.
Long-term Russian owner Roman Abramovich decided to sell Chelsea just before the UK government introduced sanctions which complicated the selling process.
Chelsea have continued to play through the front office turmoil, winning the FIFA Club World Cup in February and the UEFA Super Cup at the start of the season. They also were among the Premier League’s better teams, virtually clinching a top-four spot.
Now that the uncertainty around Chelsea’s ownership is starting to clear, and The Sporting News explains everything you need to know.
Who owns Chelsea?
An investor group led by LA Dodgers part owner Todd Boehly is taking over Chelsea FC from Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who served as owner of the Premier League club since 2003.
The deal for Boehly to take over from Abramovich is expected to be formally approved by the UK government and the Premier League by the end of May.
Boehly, a 46-year-old American businessman, is worth around $4.5 billion, according to Forbes.
He is heavily involved in U.S. professional sports, most notably as part-owner of Major League Baseball team LA Dodgers as a member of the ownership consortium Guggenheim Baseball Management. His personal stake in that club is reportedly at 20 percent.
Boehly notably sealed a major deal in 2013, between Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers to create SportsNet LA, a regional network to broadcast all LA Dodgers content.
He also has a minority stake in the legendary NBA basketball team LA Lakers and the Sparks, with his ownership group alongside Mark Walters buying a 27 percent stake in the club.
How much Todd Boehly paid to buy Chelsea?
According to the numbers shared by the club in a statement published May 6, Boehly’s group is purchasing the club in a deal worth $5.25 billion (£4.25 million), making it the most expensive team transaction in sports.
A total of $3.1 billion will go toward taking over the shares of the club from Abramovich and the rest will be invested in the club.
Why is Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea?
As a Russian oligarch, Abramovich came under increased government scrutiny following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and he ultimately decided on March 2 to put Chelsea up for sale with the best interest of the club in mind.
But on March 10, the UK government announced sanctions that essentially put a freeze on Abramovich’s assets, including Chelsea Football Club.
The Premier League side, as long as it was owned by Abramovich, could not generate new streams of income and any revenue scheduled to be received had to be frozen.
That meant that the club could not sell new tickets or merchandise, but existing agreements would continue to be honoured, including for season ticket holders and tickets sold prior to March 10.
The UK government offered a special sporting license in order that Chelsea could continue to operate as a football club despite the sanctions, but it set forth an exhaustive list of restrictions as part of it.
Among those restrictions were a transfer ban, with the club unable to transfer or acquire players. Also, travel expenses for football matches was capped at $26,000 per match.
Will Roman Abramovich profit from Chelsea sale?
No. As part of the UK sanctions levelled against Abramovich, he cannot legally benefit financially from the sale of his asset Chelsea Football Club or any other assets he owns in the UK.
Abramovich has already confirmed his intention of donating the proceeds of the eventual sale to charity.
Chelsea confirmed that the $3.1 billion would be “deposited into a frozen UK bank account with the intention of donating 100 percent to charitable causes as confirmed by Roman Abramovich.”
Who is Roman Abramovich?
Born in 1966 in Saratov, Russia, a major port city in the southwestern corner of the country, Abramovich is a Russian billionaire, most well-known for his role as owner of Premier League club Chelsea.
Abramovich gained his wealth through various investments and is known for his ability to buy and sell both businesses and various assets for profit.
The 55-year-old has made friends in high places during his career, most well-known for his friendships with former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and current president Vladimir Putin, though his camp has denied the connections to Putin in the past.
For a time, during Yeltsin’s presidency, Abramovich lived in an apartment inside the Kremlin at Yeltsin’s request. According to Richard Sakwa’s 2019 book The Crisis of Russian Democracy, it was Abramovich who first identified to Yeltsin that Putin should be his successor.
According to Forbes in 2019, Abramovich’s net worth was approximately $12.9 billion, making him the 11th richest person in Russia.
Abramovich has had his fair share of troubles over the years. In 2008, The Times reported that he paid billions of dollars in political bribes and protection fees in return for shares of Russia’s oil and aluminum assets, according to court documents.
He has also had run-ins with the Russian Antimonopoly Service, while his ownership stakes in various businesses in the steel, coal mining, and natural gas industries have seen Abramovich clash with climate change groups.
When did Roman Abramovich buy Chelsea?
Roman Abramovich first took ownership of Chelsea FC in June of 2003. Through a 100 percent ownership stake in U.K.-based holding company Fordstam Limited, Abramovich purchased the club from Ken Bates, who in turn went on to buy Leeds United.
Since his takeover, Chelsea has won 18 trophies, including two Champions League titles, five Premier League championships, and most recently the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup.
Abramovich’s massive investment in the club has built Chelsea into a perennial world power, but it has come at a serious cost to the club. Chelsea is a monstrous $2 billion in debt to Abramovich, according to a report by Front Office Sports.
The Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea
During Abramovich’s reign, Chelsea grew into a perennial European and world power in club football.
Since Abramovich took over the club in 2003, Chelsea finished in the top four of the Premier League table in all but three seasons. In addition, the club collected 18 major trophies during his ownership, including two Champions League titles.
The Russian billionaire was known for his quick trigger finger when it came to managers, with Chelsea sporting 14 different head coaches during his 19 years in charge (including one stint by Rafa Benitez and two by Guus Hiddink with the “interim” label).
The longest tenured manager under Abramovich’s reign was Jose Mourinho, whose three seasons between 2004 and 2007 still represent the longest stretch for any manager with Abramovich as boss.
But after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich’s ownership of the club came under fire as the international community attempted to punish Russia for its actions.
Questions regarding the wartime situation and Abramovich’s involvement were beginning to weigh on the club, with Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel admitting the situation was “distracting” in late February before becoming increasingly frustrated with repeated questions during a press conference in early March.
“STOP asking me these questions. I’m not a politician!” 😳
— Hayters TV (@HaytersTV) March 1, 2022
Abramovich had been reportedly looking to decrease his presence in western Europe before he was ever hit by sanctions, and as part of that the Chelsea owner decided to sell the club “in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners.”
He initially attempted to distance the club from his issues in late February when he announced he would hand “custody and care” of the club over to the Chelsea Foundation’s trustees, but the brief and vague statement only raised more questions than it answered. And the trustees were not necessarily willing to take on that responsibility.
Just days later on March 2 he announced he was selling, and despite the hefty price tag, there were plenty of willing bidders who were asked to submit their offers in short order in a sales process managed by Raine Group on behalf of Abramovich.
According to the most recent Forbes valuation, Chelsea was worth $3.2 billion in 2021, up from $760 million back in 2012.