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blue hole Chelsea left with a £1.5bn headache if Abramovich is sent packing from the UK


Roman Abramovich

Roman Abramovich

Priceless: Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring Chelsea's second goal against Lille at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Priceless: Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring Chelsea's second goal against Lille at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images


Roman Abramovich

Roman Abramovich’s private jet touched down on the tarmac of his native Moscow last night. The question for Chelsea now is whether his long-term future as owner remains on firm ground.

There was no confirmation that the secretive 55-year-old was actually on board the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner that flight trackers showed leaving Monaco, where his superyacht is also often docked.

If some British MPs get their way, that flight will be the first of many Abramovich assets sent packing from Western Europe due to claims about his supposed association with Valdimir Putin, which he has always refuted.

To the relief of associates and Chelsea fans alike, he was spared inclusion on Boris Johnson’s list of “100 new entities and individuals” who “we’ll be imposing asset freezes on”.

However, two days after Labour’s Margaret Hodge named him among those to “escape” a new sanction approach that, she said, was “too narrow”, another party veteran launched a fresh attack.

Using parliamentary privilege, Chris Bryant told MPs he had a leaked Home Office document which, he said, evidenced concerns about alleged links to corruption.

“Surely, Mr Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country,” he said. “Surely, we should be looking at seizing some of his assets, including his £ 152 million home?”

Replying to Bryant, senior minister Mark Spencer said the government was already taking “very strong action against high-profile Russian individuals who are of concern”. But, for Chelsea supporters, the outburst was a clear signal that their club may yet become collateral damage as the West responds to Russia’s war with sanctions rather than bullets.

Abramovich has repeatedly distanced himself from direct links with the Putin regime, and associates insist Chelsea would be sheltered even if he was added to any list.

However, as government sources warned last night that “there will be more” sanctions, any attempts to disrupt the heavy flow of Russian cash into Stamford Bridge will spark alarm.

A club fan base which regularly sings “we’ve won it all” would have won virtually none of it without more than £1.5 billion of loans which have been pumped into the club by Abramovich since he purchased the club in 2003. Match-day revenue is dwarfed by some of their rivals, largely due to his decision in 2018 to shelve a £ 1 billion stadium redevelopment.

With no new 60,000-seat venue to rely on, the European champions continue to dip regularly into funds which he pays into the club and then extracts when TV money and transfer fees come in.

Annual accounts for Fordstam Ltd, Chelsea’s parent company, detail in stark terms how the club remain heavily reliant on the Russian, even after a remarkable era of success both on the pitch and in the transfer market.

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Last season, Abramovich injected around £ 150 million and withdrew around £ 130 million to end the year loaning the club an overall £ 19.9 million, and taking the total related-party loans to £1.514 billion.

The loans are due to be repaid to Camberley International Investments Ltd, a British Virgin Island entity.

It is certain that separate fund is owned by Abramovich, but more detail is elusive, given the source’s offshore status.

Equally, as the loans are from the owner himself and interest free, Chelsea can refer to themselves as effectively debt free, because if Abramovich sold the club he would have to repay himself from the proceeds.

This year, accounts are looking rosy, with a healthy profit expected on player sales.

Fordstam accounts detail three players were signed in the summer for an initial outlay of £ 109.7 million and 13 were sold for £ 103.7 million.

Kieran Maguire, a football finance author and lecturer at Liverpool University, reassured Chelsea fans that they would not be left in a situation where the players were not paid, whatever the Government decided to do.

“I don’t think Chelsea will be negatively impacted, because Roman Abramovich will have his assets and his cash in a variety of locations around the world,” Maguire said.

“He’s not a British citizen, he can invest money into Chelsea, indirectly through companies such as Camberley Investments, so I don’t see how that could be prevented.

“He is a very astute individual and will do the utmost to minimise risk in relation to his wealth and investments, and having connections with offshore companies is one way of achieving that.”

The Chelsea owner’s relationship with the UK appeared to be softening since he withdrew his visa application in 2018. He attended Stamford Bridge for the first time in three years in November and has been praised for his anti-Semitism campaigning.

But the UK government will be aware that Abramovich remains as litigious as ever over any suggestion he is influenced by the Kremlin.

Chelsea can be confident their £ 10 billion man, for now, would use every asset at his disposal to ensure he is going nowhere. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]