Billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has made a dramatic late offer of £4.25 billion to buy Chelsea as Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca's group has been dropped from the bidding.
The sudden intervention by the man who is, according to a Forbes study from last year, Britain's richest, comes more than two weeks after the deadline for final offers set by New York-based merchant bank Raine Group, appointed by outgoing owner Roman Abramovich to handle the sale.
Raine Group had narrowed down the contenders to three consortiums: one headed by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly, another led by British businessman Sir Martin Broughton and a third headed by Celtics co-owner Pagliuca.
That group was narrowed down further on Friday afternoon as Pagliuca's consortium, which also includes NBA chairman and serial sports investor Larry Tanenbaum, were told they will not be selected as a preferred bidder. The other two parties were waiting to hear of any update.
Ratcliffe owns petrochemicals giant Ineos, which released a statement on Friday afternoon confirming their bid. The amount of the bid exceeds those of the three remaining consortiums who were in the running, and Ratcliffe held talks at Stamford Bridge with senior figures at Chelsea earlier this week.
"Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Chairman of INEOS, has made a formal bid for Chelsea FC, for £4.25bn," the statement read. "£2.5bn is committed to the Charitable Trust to support victims of the war, with £1.75bn committed to investment directly into the club over the next 10 years.
"This is a British bid for a British club. We believe that a club is bigger than its owners who are temporary custodians of a great tradition, with responsibility to the fans and the community."
Sources have told ESPN that there has been frustration at Raine Group's organisation of the sale from within the other remaining bidders, and that frustration is likely to increase with Raine Group having opted to leave the process open to such a late new offer.
Abramovich had been seeking £3bn for the club after deciding to sell following his sanctioning by the UK government for alleged ties to Russia president Vladimir Putin amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, but the bidders are believed to have only reached £2.5bn.
Earlier this week, Abramovich asked for an extra £500m to go to a charity set up to help the Ukraine victims -- under government terms, Abramovich cannot receive any proceeds from the sale himself -- and this caused a delay that led Secretary for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries to declare Chelsea were "on borrowed time" to complete a sale given their special licence to operate while under Abramovich's ownership expires on May 31.
Ratcliffe, a Chelsea fan whose company INEOS also owns French club Nice and Swiss side Lausanne, has sensed an opportunity to secure a deal and has outlined his vision for the club.
"We will invest in Stamford Bridge to make it a world-class stadium, befitting of Chelsea FC," the statement continued.
"This will be organic and ongoing so that we will not move away from the home of Chelsea and risk losing the support of loyal fans. We will continue to invest in the team to ensure we have a first class squad of the world's greatest players, coaches and support staff, in the men's and women's games.
"And we hope to continue to invest in the academy to provide opportunity for talented youngsters to develop into first class players.
"We believe that London should have a club that reflects the stature of the city. One that is held in the same regard as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. We intend Chelsea to be that club.
"We are making this investment as fans of the beautiful game, not as a means to turn a profit. We do that with our core businesses. The club is rooted in its community and its fans. And it is our intention to invest in Chelsea FC for that reason. No further comment will be made from Sir Jim or INEOS during the bidding process."