Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich on Wednesday confirmed he is to sell the Premier League club, pledging that proceeds will 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 his purchase in 2003.
“As I have stated before, 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 of Abramovich’s team consistently challenging 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 the fall-out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The British government have yet to order sanctions against Abramovich, who is said to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but 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 USA 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 Chelsea.
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 took hold.
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 recently, 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,” Abramovich 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 from Ken Bates, using his vast wealth and the shrewd appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager to shatter Manchester United and Arsenal’s stranglehold on the Premier League.
As well as Premier League and Champions League glory, Chelsea won the FA Cup five times, the Europa League twice and the League Cup three times under Abramovich.
Abramovich, who announced the impending sale less than an hour before Chelsea’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Luton, admitted relinquishing ownership was a painful decision.
He hopes to make one more visit to Stamford Bridge before the curtain falls on his 19-year 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,” Abramovich said.
“However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the club.
“I hope that I will be able to visit Stamford Bridge one last time to say goodbye to all of you in person.
“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.”