LONDON: A late bid to buy Chelsea was launched by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe on Friday even as the sale process was reaching its end-game with the selection of a preferred bidder for the English Premier League club.
Ratcliffe, who has an existing portfolio of sports investments, ruled out joining the bidding when Roman Abramovich was forced to put Chelsea up for sale after being sanctioned by the British government in March over his ties to President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine.
But Ratcliffe has bid 2.5 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) — around the same price being offered by rival investors — while also pledging to invest 1.75 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) in the 2021 Champions League winner over the next 10 years to try to maintain the successes enjoyed during Abramovich's 19 years as owner.
Chelsea is among Abramovich's frozen assets which is allowed to continue operating as a business only under terms set by the British government, which would have to grant a license to approve the sale and ensure the oligarch did not benefit financially.
The sale is being overseen by a New York-based merchant bank, the Raine Group, which had no immediate comment on reports — first by the Wall Street Journal — that LA Dodgers part owner Todd Boehly is the leading contender for Chelsea. Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and Jonathan Goldstein, a London-based property investor who is CEO of Cain International, are also involved in the consortium hoping to enter into exclusive talks.
The group led by Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca said it was informed on Friday that it was not chosen among the preferred bidders.
A third bid was fronted by former Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton.
It was not immediately clear how Ratcliffe's bid would be considered.
Ratcliffe, the chairman of chemical giant INEOS, owns European teams Nice and Lausanne as well as a cycling team and Britain’s America’s Cup sailing team.
INEOS said 2.5 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) of the bid is committed to a charitable trust to help victims of the war in Ukraine, although it is unclear if the buyers can determine where the proceeds of the sale go based on the government license.
“This is a British bid, for a British club,” INEOS said.
“We are making this investment as fans of the beautiful game — not as a means to turn a profit," INEOS added in a statement. “We do that with our core businesses. The club is rooted in its community and its fans. And it is our intention to invest in Chelsea FC for that reason.”
Chelsea has won 21 trophies in 19 years under Abramovich, relying on his lavish investment to become one of Europe's most successful clubs.
“We will continue to invest in the team to ensure we have a first-class squad of the world’s greatest players, coaches and support staff, in the men’s and women’s games,” INEOS said in a statement. “And we hope to continue to invest in the academy to provide opportunity for talented youngsters to develop into first class players.”