Chelsea are facing a race against time to sell the club after the U.K. government insisted the transaction must be completed by May 31, sources have told ESPN.
New York-based merchant bank Raine Group, appointed by Chelsea to handle the process, last week confirmed a consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly has been chosen as the preferred bidder, but a series of complications has threatened to derail the deal.
British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe attempted to hijack the Boehly offer by submitting a new bid at the eleventh hour. One report Wednesday suggested Ratcliffe had been informed his offer would not be considered but he remains on standby. A spokesman for Ratcliffe's petrochemicals company, INEOS, did not respond to a request by ESPN for comment.
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In an interview published Wednesday, Ratcliffe told the BBC that he is "not giving up" on his bid. While he said he'd had "positive talks" with the government, he has not had any conversations with Abramovich.
"We had a communication with Raine and met with them at the end of last week. We presented a bid but have heard very little back from them," Ratcliffe said.
Sources have told ESPN that Boehly has a short period of exclusivity in which to finalise terms, thought to end in the next few days.
During those conversations, it emerged that Roman Abramovich is exploring the possibility of seeking repayment on the £1.6 billion ($2 billion) loan he has made to the club through a complicated structure involving Chelsea's parent company, Fordstam Ltd.
Fordstam is controlled by Abramovich, and Chelsea's latest financial results from December state that the club "is reliant on Fordstam Limited for its continued support."
However, when Abramovich was sanctioned by the U.K. government for alleged ties to Russia President Vladimir Putin, Chelsea were frozen as an asset and the oligarch was therefore not allowed to profit from its continued operation in any way, including a potential sale.
Sources have told ESPN that the government have taken a dim view of Abramovich seeking recompense -- especially given he released a statement on March 2 insisting "I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid."
Any proceeds from the sale not committed to future investment in Chelsea were expected to be made available to an as yet unspecified charitable entity whose purpose would be to help victims of the war in Ukraine.
Sources now claim the government are involved in conversations to specify those details. One source has suggested the sale could proceed with the £1.6bn frozen as an Abramovich asset, freeing up the club to return to full operations.
The government granted Chelsea a special licence to continue fulfilling fixtures until May 31. Should a deal not be completed in time, the club could face a real risk of going out of business.
Once an agreement with government is reached, the successful bidder would also need to complete the Premier League's owners' and directors' test. A Premier League spokesman did not respond to a request by ESPN asking whether Boehly's bid had undertaken the test.
Chief executive Richard Masters said in March that the quickest the process has been completed is 10 days, "but that's not to say that that record cannot be beaten."
The Premier League formally issues shares to the 20 member clubs for the 2022-23 season on June 9. If Chelsea do not have a licence to operate, they would not be allowed to compete.