Exclusive: How next Chelsea owner will be decided as tension with government escalates

The government will not play an active role in selecting Chelsea’s next owner, with their sole focus on ensuring no money from a transaction goes to Roman Abramovich.

Raine Group, a US bank, has been overseeing the sale process since before the Russian billionaire was sanctioned by the government last week. They have set a deadline of Friday for bids to be submitted, which was pushed back 72 hours due to the sanctions.

At that point, Raine are expected to report to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) with their assessment of the best offers. It is unclear if the club will have any say, with a spokesperson unable to comment on the process. Raine will make a decision around the preferred bidder and the government will only step in once they have received satisfactory evidence that Abramovich will not make any financial gain.

READ MORE: Roman Abramovich sanctioned by EU ahead of Chelsea vs Lille in Champions League

Once a prospective buyer is decided on, Raine will need to submit an application for the terms of the operating license imposed on the club last Thursday to be changed, which will require proof of no cash going to the disqualified owner. From there it will be up to the prospective buyer to pass the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test before completing their takeover.

Tensions between the government and Chelsea had escalated further earlier today following the club’s request for this weekend’s FA Cup game away to Middlesbrough to take place behind closed doors, with an unnamed Westminster source commenting that focus should instead be on “moving their club into the hands of someone who isn’t linked to a warmonger.”

That remarkable statement came less than an hour after the club raised a question of “sporting integrity” because only 600 supporters can travel to the Riverside Stadium. Tickets can no longer be sold as a condition of the special operating license imposed since Abramovich was sanctioned.

The license has already been changed to loosen restrictions that could have impacted the preparations of Thomas Tuchel’s team ahead of games and ensure staff can be paid in full and on time. But there remains dissatisfaction around limits on fans being able to attend, leading to the club initially requesting that the quarter-final takes place behind closed doors.

Both the government and Chelsea are working on a solution to issues that impact supporters. And DCMS have tried to distance themselves from the “warmonger” comment, which was first reported by Politico’s Alex Wickham.

“We are meeting on a daily basis with the club and football authorities to discuss further amendments to the license which is designed to ensure Chelsea can continue to undertake football activity. One of our priorities is to uphold the integrity of the game and Chelsea will have a limited number of fans at the Middlesbrough game on Saturday,” a government spokesman said.

“We are working to ensure more away fans can attend games, but this must be compatible with the license so we ensure that no additional revenue can be raised given the club is owned by an individual now sanctioned both in the UK and EU.”

Chelsea have since withdrawn their request following widespread condemnation. Middlesbrough described Chelsea’s initial statement as “weird”, adding that to play the game without fans would be “grossly unfair” and complaints over sporting integrity were “ironic in the extreme.”

But the government source went one step further. “We are working around the clock to enable Chelsea to continue operating as a club in the interests of the fans,” he said. “This statement threatening Middlesbrough and the rest of the Football League shows they do not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation they are in, being owned by an entity that has been sanctioned because of links to a person responsible for appealing acts in Ukraine.

“We are not opposed to Chelsea having fans at games in the long run, but we will not allow money from ticket sales to flow to a sanctioned entity. Chelsea should spend less time worrying about having a few thousand fans at one game and focus on moving their club into the hands of someone who isn’t linked to a warmonger.”

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