‘Massive microscope’ on new owners will help protect Chelsea’s future

Chelsea’s fate will be determined this month. The successful candidate to succeed Roman Abramovich will be presented to the government in 17 days by Raine Group, a New York-based investment bank. The future will be very different from the last 19 years of the oligarch’s tenure.

Abramovich’s alleged links to Vladimir Putin, the perpetrator of the war in Ukraine, led to the imposition of sanctions on the 55-year-old. The ripple effect destabilizes Chelsea. The Independent spoke to a number of football personalities about the challenges facing the club. They gave their opinion on condition of anonymity.

Of the four consortia competing to buy Chelsea, three are led by Americans. Todd Boehly, co-owner of two Los Angeles teams, the baseball Dodgers and the basketball Lakers, is at the forefront of an offer. Stephen Pagliuca is another whose hat is in the ring and the 67-year-old is a partner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics and Serie A’s Atalanta. The Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs MLB team. Sir Martin Broughton is the face of the latest set of suitors, along with Lord Sebastian Coe. Both Brits are long-time Chelsea fans.

None of the potential buyers have the ability – or the inclination – to pump money into the club the way Abramovich has done for almost two decades. It is likely that an American-led bid will succeed. What can Chelsea fans expect from the Russian’s replacement?

The pre-selection should bring some semblance of relief to fans. One of the most attractive things about Stamford Bridge is its location. A number of investors were interested in acquiring the club, moving to an out-of-town location and redeveloping SW6’s main real estate. All the remaining consortia know that is not a possibility.

The Chelsea Pitch Owners, a non-profit organization set up by Ken Bates to stop any threat of redevelopment on the site, say moving is out of the question.

The CPO has over 14,000 shareholders and holds full ownership of the bridge and the rights to the Chelsea Football Club name. To move stadiums would require the approval of 75% of the members. Abramovich couldn’t reach that threshold when he hoped to move more than a decade ago. Whatever happens in the next few weeks, Chelsea are staying put.

“There were a few vultures that thought they might kill when the sale was announced,” said a source with knowledge of the bidders. “But the slightest awareness of the situation tells you that it would be next to impossible to come in, move the team and make a huge profit. The Pitch Holders were a huge thorn in Abramovich’s side. He thought that they would do whatever he asked. But they are supporters and the conscience of the club. They are not for sale.

“The stadium needs to be redeveloped, but I expect it will be done piecemeal over a period of a decade. Much of the way Anfield is being upgraded incrementally.

John Terry is the chairman of the CPO and is the face of the True Blues Consortium, a group that campaigns for a 10% stake. They have been in contact with some of the bidders.

Todd Boehly’s consortium is one of four preferred bidders

(AFP via Getty Images)

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up being part of the package,’ a Westminster source said. “The government has an eye on the PR impact and that would go down well with fan groups – and not just Chelsea supporters.”

Another person who has been involved in football takeovers said such a situation would be negative for the new owners. “Having a 10% block doesn’t really mean much,” they said. “It doesn’t bring much influence. But there is a nuisance value. Because they are fans, so you have to be seen to notice. And remember, this is not your normal takeover. There is so much control over it. Everyone should be seen as doing the right thing.

This is a positive point for those who care about Chelsea’s future. “I don’t think anyone needs to worry about the new owners ‘making a Glazers’ and burdening the club with debt,” said a source at a London venture capital firm. The American owners of Manchester United financed their takeover with loans, loading the debt onto the club. Liverpool were also put in a precarious position when George Gillett and Tom Hicks used the same tactic at Anfield.

“They’re under a massive microscope at Chelsea,” the political insider confirmed.

Everyone agrees that the biggest challenge will be adapting to a post-Abramovich world where spending will be tight. The Russian has canceled loans worth £1.5billion. The new owners are unlikely to inject cash in the same way.

“The US Premier League owners – Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool, the Glazers at United and Stan Kroenke at Arsenal – are watching spending and its relationship to revenue closely,” the financial expert said. “They will establish budgets that must be respected. It will not be at the whim of one man. They are indeed institutional buyers. They are not there to lose money.

The main downside of the American owners is their lack of experience in the football market. In the United States, the sport is strictly regulated. The way the English game works comes as a shock to those used to American methods. FSG initially thought they would circle around other clubs and agents. Their first experience in the Premier League convinced the Boston-based owners of Liverpool that they were much smarter than everyone else. They quickly learned a hard lesson: the characters who inhabit English football are not as dumb as they look but are twice as venal as Americans imagined. “They had their pants pulled down a lot in their early years,” a source close to Anfield said.

Almost everyone agrees that the key to Chelsea’s future – whoever is in charge – is who the new owners bring in to run the club. Marina Granovskaia, who runs the bridge, is widely respected and considered to have done a superb job. Still, Granovskaia’s ties to Abramovich mean it’s impossible for her to stay in charge. It is likely that Bruce Buck, the president, will also go. The entire executive stratum of the bridge will need to be replaced.

“If they bring in an identikit American executive to run the club, the flaws will show up pretty quickly,” the City source said. “It will take a group of experienced people to meet the challenges ahead.”

Which brings its own problems. As Newcastle United have shown, a consortium means a variety of opinions must be heard before decisions are made. This can slow things down and force compromises. This is far from Abramovich’s last word.

“It’s not just about showing money,” the financial expert said. “Everton have spent over half a billion. Bad spending gets you nowhere.

“The biggest challenge is appointing the right people to run the club. Chelsea have a great manager in place and a good squad. A sensible owner doesn’t need to party in the transfer market. Upgrading the team if needed shouldn’t require massive resources. The club should be able to generate the necessary money.

“Any potential buyers should be able to keep the team in the top six unless they do something stupid.”

These are tough times at Chelsea. They could be much worse. Much worse.

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