Football: US group that owns baseball's LA Dodgers closing in on deal for Chelsea

It is not clear how much will be paid for Chelsea, but it is certain to beat the highest price last paid for an English football club. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Chelsea is close to signing a sale agreement with a group led by former Guggenheim Partners president Todd Boehly, putting an end to a weeks-long bidding process for one of the most successful football clubs of the past two decades.

Boehly's consortium could reach an agreement as soon as Friday (May 6) with Chelsea and its owner, the sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, according to people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because it was private.

An agreement would be the first step in gaining control of last season's European champions. The British government needs to approve the sale, and the Premier League needs to give the all-clear to the bidder, via its owners' and directors' test.

Representatives for the buyer group and the club did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Clearlake, Dodgers Boehly's consortium includes investment company Clearlake Capital, Swiss businessman Hansjoerg Wyss and Mark Walter, Bloomberg News has reported.

World record price expected

Boehly and Walter are co-owners of Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers. The group has not formally declared its members or their shareholdings, despite being in negotiations with the West London football team for several weeks.

It is not clear how much it will be paying for Chelsea, but it is certain to beat the highest price last paid for an English football club, when the Glazer family bought Manchester United for more than £700 million (S$1.2 billion) in 2005. Reuters reported on Thursday that Chelsea is expected to go for a world-record price for a sports club of around £2.5 billion.

On Thursday, Abramovich denied media reports that he had raised the asking price for the club and also sought a £1.5 billion loan to be repaid to him when the deal goes through.

The Russian put the club up for sale in early March, shortly before the British government placed him under far-reaching sanctions following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He still intends to give proceeds from the sale to charity, according to a rare public statement on the club's website on Thursday.

May 31 deadline

That pledge could remove hurdles to completing a process that has been advancing slowly toward a deadline of May 31, when the licence that enables the club to continue operating comes to an end.

Abramovich also signalled a change in who will manage a foundation to allocate his funds from the sale, a potential wrinkle to winning British government clearance for the transaction.

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which has to sign off on any sale, declined to comment.

Jim Ratcliffe, the founder of energy company Ineos Group Holdings Ltd, had mounted a late push to buy the club. Ratcliffe's team met Chelsea influencers on Thursday, including the club's first Black player and the Chelsea Supporters' Trust, even after its £4.25 billion offer was rejected by the Raine Group, the American bank handling the sale.

On the same day, the Trust called for a quick and transparent sale to ensure the future of the club.

"It is essential that the sale of Chelsea is completed swiftly and transparently," the CST said in a statement. "We urge the current ownership, Raine and the UK Government to ensure this happens.

"Any delay to this process could risk the future of Chelsea - all parties must ensure the sustainability and future of the club is safeguarded."

Under the terms of its licence, Chelsea is currently unable to offer new contracts to existing players or sign players from other clubs.

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