As part of a fresh set of measures in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government has sanctioned Chelsea FC Owner, Roman Abramovich as well as six other oligarchs.
The new sanctions announced include measures ranging from asset freezes to travel bans. Announcing the sanctions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “there can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s invasion.” This move comes following long-standing criticism from Labour MP Chris Bryant, who has been a staunch advocate for sanctions to be levied against Abramovich.
Under the sanctions introduced, Abramovich’s assets have been frozen, most notably Chelsea FC. This will mean that Chelsea can no longer sell any more merchandise or tickets, nor transfer players or negotiate new contracts for existing players. Abramovich had been in the process of selling the club, having announced that he would do so last Wednesday. However, this sale has been halted because of the new sanctions. It is unclear when the sale will be reopened, however it will only happen providing he can prove that he would not benefit from the sale, which was expected to bring in somewhere in the region of £3 billion.
In his statement, Abramovich had claimed that he had “instructed [his] 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.” However, there had been significant doubts expressed about who would be in charge of the foundation, and who exactly Abramovich meant by “victims”.
While Abramovich has always been quick to deny being a “crony” of Putin, it is hard to see how an objective onlooker could come to the same conclusion. Indeed, a biographer of Putin, Chris Hutchins, described their relationship as being akin to a father and his favourite son. Roman Abramovich was the first person to advise former Russian President Boris Yeltsin that Putin should be his successor.
Perhaps most illustrative of Putin’s fondness for Abramovich came when Abramovich was the Governor of Chukotka from 1999-2008. When Abramovich tried to resign as Governor, his resignation was refused by President Putin. It was only when Medvedev became President in 2008 that Abramovich was able to leave his post.
What does this mean for Chelsea?
In Chelsea’s game with Norwich yesterday, it was hard to ignore what Chelsea’s coach Thomas Tuchel called the “noise around the club”. Chelsea fans at Carrow Road could be heard chanting Abramovich’s name throughout the game.
After the announcement of sanctions, concerns naturally turn to what this meant for Chelsea. Without an ability to negotiate contracts with existing players, they are set to lose club captain Cezar Azpilicueta, as well as Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. Without the ability to re-sign new players, this will leave many fans worried about the future of the club.
As Chelsea is 100% owned by Roman Abramovich, the freezing of his assets would ordinarily mean that Chelsea would itself be frozen, however Chelsea have been granted a special license to operate. This will allow them to continue to pay players and staff, as well as hold games and broadcast them. The purpose of this license is to ensure that the club can continue to operate. On this, the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “the Government will work with the league and clubs to keep football being played while ensuring sanctions hit those intended. Football clubs are cultural assets and the bedrock of our communities. We’re committed to protecting them.”
This news will create a large degree of uncertainty among Chelsea fans. A lot of how this plays out will depend on how fast Abramovich can obtain a license to sell the club. If he loves the club as much as he proclaims to, this will be of the utmost priority. A quick sale would ensure that fans can get back to games quickly, and can re-sign existing players, or at the very least replace them with new ones.
From the Government’s perspective, they will want to minimise the disruption caused to Chelsea and its fans. They certainly don’t want to alienate the constituents of one of the few London seats that they hold in Chelsea and Fulham. However, they also have an opportunity to get this very right. As part of the sale, Chelsea Supporters Trust are demanding that fans get a Golden Share of the club in any sale, which, given the fall-out following last years Super League controversy, would certainly be a popular move amongst fans. However, one thing is for certain, it is unlikely that Chelsea FC will ever look quite the same.