London (AFP) – Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich said on Wednesday he had made the “incredibly difficult” decision to sell the Premier League club, pledging that proceeds would go to victims of the war in Ukraine.
The billionaire believes it is in the “best interest” of the Champions League holders if he parts ways with the club he has transformed since he bought it in 2003.
The dramatic development comes days after Abramovich said he was handing over control of Chelsea to trustees of its charitable foundation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart,” Abramovich said in a statement.
“In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners.”
It is a seismic moment for English football after nearly two decades during which Abramovich’s team have consistently challenged for the sport’s top honours.
Chelsea have won 19 major trophies in the Abramovich era, including their first two Champions League crowns and five Premier League titles.
But the 55-year-old’s reign will come to an end in the fall-out from Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
Abramovich, alleged to have close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has not been named on a growing British sanctions list targeting Russian banks, businesses and pro-Kremlin tycoons.
Bu the Chelsea owner’s concern about potential seizing of assets is understood to have sparked his move to off-load the Blues.
Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and US investor Todd Boehly, a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, are reported to be two of the parties now preparing a joint bid for the Premier League giants.
Wyss, 86, told Swiss newspaper Blick he had been offered the chance to buy the London club because Abramovich wanted “to get rid of Chelsea quickly” before potential political sanctions.
It is believed Abramovich’s asking price for Chelsea will be around £3 billion ($4 billion), with American bank the Raine Group reported to have been asked to handle the sale.
– Privilege of a lifetime’
Chelsea’s debt to Abramovich currently stands at around £1.5 billion but he will not ask for loans to be repaid, while he is also said to be set to sell his London property portfolio.
Abramovich, who made a rare appearance to watch Chelsea win the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi last month, has pledged to donate any net proceeds from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine.
“The sale of the club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process,” he said.
“I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and club.
“Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated.
“The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.”
Abramovich paid £140 million to buy Chelsea and the shrewd appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager helped shatter Manchester United and Arsenal’s stranglehold on the Premier League.
He announced the impending sale less than an hour before Chelsea’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Championship side Luton, which the Blues won 3-2.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said his team had managed to “cancel out the noise”.
“I think every decision he (Abramovich) takes is the right decision, it is his choice, his club, it is not on me to comment,” he told the BBC.
“In the very short term for us as a team, staff and players, hopefully not too much, maybe even it will change nothing, but the situation is now out there and a big situation so I can understand lots of reports.”
Abramovich said he hopes to make one more visit to Stamford Bridge to say goodbye before the curtain falls on his reign.
“Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the club in this manner,” he said.
He added: “It has been a privilege of a lifetime to be part of Chelsea FC and I am proud of all our joint achievements. Chelsea Football Club and its supporters will always be in my heart.”
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