Chelsea were bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in the summer of 2003. Football was never to be the same again.
In the 19 years that have followed, the beautiful game has become bigger, bolder and pumped full of cash, with Abramovich often leading the charge. The current European Champions changed the state of play in so many ways – but with their Russian owner potentially ceding control, that era at Stamford Bridge could be about to end.
The club are once more on the market, according to reports. Roman paid £140m for his side and in their last valuation, they were thought to be worth a staggering £2.39 billion. So what's going to happen?
Is Chelsea going to be sold?
Roman Abramovich is one of the most involved owners at any of Europe's top clubs. He has close relationships with his staff, has favourite players and loves the club deeply – not just the men's first team, either.
"We have an owner who loves the team and loves all the teams at Chelsea and he’s listened to what we (the women's team) need to compete," Chelsea women's team manager Emma Hayes told FFT in November of Abramovich's commitment to investing across the club. The Russian-Israeli billionaire certainly isn't going to flog his passion project because he's bored of it.
The situation with Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased pressure on the UK government to impose sanctions on Russian-owned businesses in this country. Abramovich wants to keep Chelsea – but that could prove to be impossible, should these sanctions come in.
Why would Roman Abramovich sell Chelsea?
"Why on earth" isn't Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich facing UK sanctions? asks Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer Boris Johnson says he can't comment on individual cases but the sanctions already in place "are being felt in Moscow"https://t.co/t0J5UnaizN #PMQs pic.twitter.com/oegLNxLTZEMarch 2, 2022
Labour MP Chris Bryant recently used Parliamentary Privilege to reveal that Abramovich is selling his UK homes, claiming in the House of Commons the Russian billionaire is "terrified of being sanctioned", with leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer has expressed his shock that Abramovich hasn't been sanctioned yet.
Essentially, sanctions are measures that a state can put in place against another state. The UK government could freeze Abramovich's assets over here and so selling Chelsea might be in his best interests before said sanctions come into place.
Who's going to buy Chelsea?
Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire worth $4bn, has apparently been offered the chance to buy the club.
"I and three other people received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich," Wyss recently claimed. "I have to wait four to five days now. Abramovich is currently asking far too much. You know, Chelsea owe him £2bn. But Chelsea has no money. As of today, we don’t know the exact selling price."
Wyss is 86 and founded the company Synthes USA in 1977: it is now the world's largest maker of implants to mend bone fractures. The Swiss mogul has never before shown an interest in sport, instead investing his money in environmental projects.
He claims that he would be one of a consortium of six or seven investors buying the Blues.
Would Chelsea still be a top side without Roman Abramovich?
Never mind football: in the past 19 years, Chelsea have become one of the biggest names in sport thanks to the investment of Roman Abramovich. That very first summer, the tabloids were in heat as the Blues shelled out over £100m in signings.
The early days at Stamford Bridge saw investment a-plenty from their billionaire donor but it is feasible that Chelsea could become sustainable on its own two feet. The club have one of the most prolific academies in Europe and consistently generate good sales of their stars.
Hansjorg Wyss claims he is not rich enough to buy Chelsea alone – and it's possible that no one in the new consortium would be able to dip into their pocket for Erling Haaland in the summer. But the Blues are in a strong enough position these days that they shouldn't need too much external backing.
Who are the Chelsea Pitch Owners?
Here's a sticking point. Although Abramovich owns Chelsea Football Club, the actual pitch at Stamford Bridge is owned by a fan group, called the Chelsea Pitch Owners.
In 2011, the billionaire had plans to build a new stadium for his club in London – but the club's supporters had the power to reject, thanks to their ownership of the pitch. A new owner could feasibly build a new ground around that pitch – though planning permission has been rejected in the past – but the pitch itself must remain.
This is one particular obstacle for a new owner and something that could either put off new buyers or cause friction in the future. Still, there's a lot more friction in the present to be concerned with…
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