Roman Abramovich disqualified as Chelsea director

UK government welcomes move by the Premier League

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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has been disqualified as a director at the English top-flight football club after he was sanctioned by the British government in connection with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Premier League said on Saturday.

The UK government hit Abramovich with sanctions on Thursday, freezing all the Russian billionaire's British assets.

“The board's decision does not impact on the club's ability to train and play its fixtures, as set out under the terms of a licence issued by the government which expires on May 31, 2022,” the league said.

Chelsea's problems continued to mount after several of its credit cards were temporarily frozen during bank assessments of its new operating licence, reports said.

The European and world club champions continue to operate under special, stringent conditions after the British government claimed to have proven Abramovich’s links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich, 55, has denied links to Russia’s regime, but Mr Putin’s war in Ukraine has led to a major geopolitical shift.

“We welcome the Premier League's action to disqualify Roman Abramovich as a director of the football club. The government has made clear that we need to hold to account those who have enabled the Putin regime,” a spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.

“We are open to a sale of the club and would consider an application for a licence to allow that to happen,” he said.

Chelsea’s strict licence is designed to ensure Abramovich will not profit from the Stamford Bridge club’s continued operations, with ticket sales banned and an embargo on new transfers and new contracts for existing stars. The club shop has been forced to shut.

Those new government regulations have led to several company credit cards being paused on a short-term basis as lenders seek more detail on the new licence.

It is understood Chelsea officials held talks with UK government officials on Friday on amendments to it.

Chelsea expect negotiations with Downing Street to continue into next week.

The Premier League club will seek a relaxation of limits such as the £20,000 travel cap for away matches, with a typical Premier League spend closer to £30,000 a match.

The £20,000 cap would almost certainly place their Champions League tie against Lille in France in jeopardy.

Chelsea are thought to have their travel and accommodation bills already paid for the rest of this season for fixtures, but this does not cover cup competitions.

The Blues are scheduled to face Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, March 19.

Under the current rules, Chelsea cannot sell any new tickets for that match, which would severely hit Championship club Middlesbrough’s gate revenue.

Chelsea cannot sell any new match programmes for Sunday’s Premier League home clash with Newcastle United, so vendors are thought to be unable to work at Stamford Bridge.

Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on March 2, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with his ownership set to end after 19 years and 18 major trophies.

Abramovich had pledged to write off the club’s £1.5 billion debt and plough all sale proceeds into a charitable foundation to help victims of the war in Ukraine.

Chelsea’s current licence terms have paused the club’s sale, but the government is understood to be ready to take control of the process, or supervise a transfer of ownership by Abramovich.

The government’s sanctions will continue to demand that Abramovich does not profit at all from Chelsea, but the hiatus has not deterred the throng of prospective new owners.

British property tycoon Nick Candy is interested in bidding for the Champions League holders.

A representative for Candy on Friday confirmed the 49-year-old’s interest in Chelsea.

“We are examining the details of yesterday’s announcement and we are still interested in making a bid,” the representative 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.”

A host of US investors still harbour interest in Chelsea, with Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly part of one consortium, and Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts another with a strongly-rumoured interest.

Shirt sponsor Three said on Thursday that it was suspending its partnership with Chelsea, but travel company Trivago was pledging to continue to support the club in the “transition to new ownership”.

Despite turmoil off the pitch, Chelsea continue to flourish on it. Thursday's 3-1 win over bottom-club Norwich City was a fourth successive win in the Premier League to keep them third in the table.

The Blues take on an in-form Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Updated: March 12, 2022, 7:16 PM
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