UK Government Freezes Roman Abramovich’s Assets, Shelving His Fire Sale of Chelsea F.C.

  • Abramovich changed the fortunes of a club that once had cars parked beside the playing field
  • The UK government alleged Abramovich is “a pro-Kremlin oligarch” with close ties to Putin
  • Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale last week hoping for a deal to go through quickly
  • Chelsea can’t sell tickets to games, sign new players, or ink new contracts
  • Abramovich has repeatedly denied any links to Putin or the Russian state
Roman Abramovich watching a soccer match
The future of Chelsea soccer club is in the balance after the UK government froze the assets of owner Roman Abramovich, citing links to Putin and the Russian state. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Fallout from Putin’s war on Ukraine

For those old enough to recall when cars parked beside the playing field of Chelsea F.C.’s Stamford Bridge, the news that the UK government has frozen the assets of Russian owner Roman Abramovich brings back memories of the soccer franchise’s cash-strapped past.

effectively means Abramovic cannot rush through the fire sale of his London club

The sanctioning of the Chelsea owner, announced Thursday, is the latest fallout from Vladimir’s Putin’s war on Ukraine, and effectively means Abramovic cannot rush through the fire sale of his London club. The Times political editor Steven Swinford shared the news via Twitter:

A document released by the UK government on Thursday alleges Abramovich is “a pro-Kremlin oligarch [said to be] associated with a person who is or has been involved in destabilising Ukraine and undermining and threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, namely Vladimir Putin, with whom Abramovich has had a close relationship for decades.”

The announcement is bitter medicine for Chelsea fans after a string of potential suitors, including New York Jets’ owner Woody Johnson, were lining up bids worth billions of GBP. The UK government has, however, had given Chelsea a special license to continue with soccer-related activities.

Blue day for The Blues

Abramovich put the South West London-based club, nicknamed The Blues, up for sale last week and had been hoping for a deal to go through quickly. The Russian has 100% ownership of Chelsea F.C. plc and affiliated entities. According to The Guardian, he was reportedly looking for as much as £4bn ($5.27bn) for Chelsea.

But what a difference Thursday makes.

In an official Chelsea FC statement released Thursday afternoon UK time, the club said the respective men’s and women’s games against Norwich City F.C. and West Ham United F.C. would go ahead later today. The statement also reads that the club intends:

to engage in discussions with the UK Government regarding the scope of the licence”

Chelsea added this “will include seeking permission for the licence to be amended in order to allow the Club to operate as normal as possible.”

The government’s special license given to Chelsea comes loaded with restrictions. The franchise will now have to play their home games with reduced crowds as the club cannot sell any more tickets, with only season ticket holders allowed to attend games for the foreseeable future.

Chelsea can’t sell its branded merchandise and — more worrying for the squad that only last year won the UEFA Champions League — it cannot sign new players or hand out new contracts.

What this means is, unless Chelsea’s hierarchy manage to negotiate an amendment with the government, the likes of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, and Cesar Azpilicueta will walk away from the club in summer, as their contracts are expiring.

Things fall apart

The government document asserts that Abramovich — one of the seven Russian oligarchs to be sanctioned — has had a close relationship with Putin “for decades,” which has led to him benefitting financially.

“This includes tax breaks received by companies linked to Abramovich, buying and selling shares from and to the state at favourable rates, and the contracts received in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup,” the document continued.

Abramovich has repeatedly denied any links to Putin or the Russian state, or that he has done anything to warrant getting sanctioned. However, as US sportsbooks stop taking bets on events involving Russia or Belarus, and brands like PokerStars suspend services, the words of William Butler Yeat’s The Second Coming come to mind:

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”