Owner not giving up despite woes, Blues say

LONDON • Chelsea insisted on Thursday that Roman Abramovich remained committed to the club despite shelving plans for the £1 billion (S$1.78 billion) redevelopment of Stamford Bridge after he was denied a United Kingdom visa.

The club remain adamant that Abramovich's dispute with the Home Office over his visa, and his subsequent reluctance to invest in the country, will not affect Chelsea's football business at the start of a potentially seismic summer, in which manager Antonio Conte and key players could leave.

Chelsea's announcement that the new stadium project - which has been over a decade in the making with architects' plans drawn up in 2015 and planning permission received last year - is on hold came as a surprise on Thursday and has been characterised as a personal decision by Abramovich.

The Russian billionaire has not been granted a visa after a clampdown by the Home Office on individuals holding tier-one or so-called "golden visas", which allow anyone who invests more than £2 million in the British economy to stay for 40 months.

The 51-year-old can travel to the UK visa-free for up to six months at a time using the Israeli passport that he acquired last week, but he is unwilling to commit to a significant capital investment in a country that he feels is denying him the right to work.

Chelsea insist that Abramovich's situation will not affect his support for the London club or investment in the squad, and claim that it is not a factor in the apparent delay in clarifying Conte's future.

The Italian is expecting to be sacked despite the team winning the FA Cup final a fortnight ago, a match Abramovich missed because of his visa problems.

Chelsea have spent the past few weeks sounding out alternatives to Conte, including Luis Enrique and Maurizio Sarri, but refused to meet the £7 million release clause in the latter's Napoli contract which was not terminated when the Italian Serie A runners-up appointed his successor Carlo Ancelotti.

That clause expired on Thursday and the fee to secure Sarri, who has two years to run on his contract, will now have to be determined via negotiation.

There is a danger the state of flux could drag on well into next month, adding to the sense of uncertainty at Chelsea.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is likely to be sold after refusing a new contract and there are doubts over Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, who have attracted interest from Manchester City and Juventus respectively.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2018, with the headline 'Owner not giving up despite woes, Blues say'. Print Edition | Subscribe