British property tycoon and consortium seen as serious Chelsea buyers

The UK government views the British property tycoon Nick Candy and a consortium headed by Todd Boehly and Hansjörg Wyss as serious contenders to buy Chelsea after inviting potential bidders to approach it with takeover proposals.

Chelsea are in an unprecedented state of limbo after sanctions were imposed on Roman Abramovich, with the Russian oligarch barred from selling the club for the time being, but the feeling in Westminster is that the UK’s government believes the process of finding a new owner will not be derailed by this week’s dramatic developments.

The decision to freeze Abramovich’s assets because of his ties to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government has left Chelsea at risk of major financial problems, but it has not deterred parties interested in buying the club. Boehly and Wyss are waiting for a response to their opening offer, which was between £2bn and £2.5bn, and Candy is working on a proposal.

There is also strong interest from Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets, and the Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs. Neither Johnson nor the Ricketts family has responded to questions about their plans.

The situation is urgent from Chelsea’s perspective. They have been granted a special licence to continue football-related activities but they are operating under heavy restrictions. Abramovich is unable to put money into Chelsea and fears are growing that the European champions could fall into administration if a sale is not agreed soon because they are not permitted to collect matchday income, merchandise sales have been banned and the shirt sponsor Three has suspended its partnership.

However the UK government is keen to target Abramovich rather than Chelsea, which it views as a “significant cultural asset”, and it will consider an application for a new licence that would permit a sale. Chris Philp, the UK’s digital and technology minister, said on Friday that Abramovich would be prevented from selling the club but potential buyers could approach the government with takeover proposals as long as the Russian would not benefit from the deal.

The viability of potential buyers is being discussed in political circles. Boehly and Wyss remain confident that their consortium, which includes an unnamed businessman, will be viewed favourably by the UK government and Premier League.

It is understood that Candy, a Tory donor, is also seen as a strong contender to buy Chelsea. The property developer is working on finding investors and his proposals include plans for an expensive redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, which could work in his favour. Candy, a Chelsea fan, is worth a reported £1.5bn.

“We are examining the details of yesterday’s announcement and we are still interested in making a bid,” Candy’s spokesperson said. “Clearly, this is a time of great uncertainty for all Chelsea fans. In our view, no one is the owner of a football club – you are the custodian of it for the fans and the community.”

The sale process is being overseen by the New York-based bank The Raine Group. Other interested parties include the Turkish businessman Muhsin Bayrak, Jamie Reuben and the Crystal Palace shareholder Josh Harris.

Saudi-funded plans

However there is a feeling that even if Reuben wanted to step away from Newcastle United, it would be difficult because the Reuben Brothers property business founded by his father and uncle not only holds a 10 per cent stake in the club but is heavily involved in implementing Saudi-funded plans to launch hundreds of thousands pounds worth of regeneration projects on Tyneside.

The UK government and Premier League are understood to be extremely keen to see the proposed redevelopments start taking shape, and previously closed doors may be now opened for Reuben Brothers to explore business opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region. Moreover Jamie Reuben is said to be enjoying his directorship at St James’ Park and was at Southampton on Thursday night, cheering Eddie Howe’s team on alongside his co-director Amanda Staveley.

Chelsea, who host Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday, remain in discussions with the UK government about softening some of the restrictions it faces – including a £20,000 limit on costs for away matches. That limit does not apply to Wednesday’s Champions League at Lille because it had already been booked. The licence permits Chelsea to continue paying employees but does not allow Abramovich to profit from the club’s income.

A number 10 spokesperson said: “We’re in constant contact with the club and the Premier League over any issues that have been raised through the sanctions and the licence that the Treasury has issued them. In terms of process, it’s now up to the club to apply for any amended licence. I believe Chelsea have said that they will do that, and we’ll obviously work with the club to consider any operationally necessary changes. But as we said yesterday, the measures we put in place are to ensure that any revenue generated can’t find its way back to the Putin regime.”

Chelsea fans have faced criticism for chanting Abramovich’s name during their side’s win at Norwich on Thursday. The UK government spokesperson added: “We understand the strength of feeling that Chelsea fans will have, and their passion for the club. But it’s important to remember that these sanctions are being imposed on those who have provided support to the Putin regime and the brutal assault on Ukraine. ” – Guardian

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