By Nick Purewal, PA
The UK government is prepared to usher through Chelsea’s sale to any of the four shortlisted bidders, the PA news agency understands.
The remaining contenders to buy Chelsea must submit final offers for the Stamford Bridge club on April 14th.
New York merchant bank the Raine Group will then hope to present a preferred bidder to Downing Street in the week of April 18th.
The UK government must approve the eventual buyer, with the issuing of a new Treasury licence for the sale the final hurdle for Chelsea’s would-be new owners.
And sources close to the government have revealed Downing Street’s satisfaction in principle with all remaining parties in the battle to buy the Blues from Roman Abramovich.
Chelsea’s eventual new owners will have to satisfy the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ tests before the government would be due to ratify the work done by Raine Group in examining the suitability of their preferred bidder.
A spokesperson for the British Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “The Government has no role in establishing a preferred bidder for Chelsea Football Club.
“Assessments of owners and due diligence are a matter for the club and the Premier League, not the Government.
“Our role is to consider an application for an amended licence that authorises a sale of the club when it comes forward with a preferred bidder.”
The sale of the Stamford Bridge club could reach a sports franchise record £3 billion, with the destination of those funds yet to be determined. The sale proceeds could either be frozen, or diverted into a charitable foundation to aid victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Chicago Cubs owners the Ricketts family and Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly, in partnership with US magnate Mark Walter and British businessman Jonathan Goldstein, have both pushed hard in their bids for the Blues.
Sir Martin Broughton and Lord Sebastien Coe have teamed up on another bid, while Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca is also in the running.
The Ricketts family’s bid has drawn criticism among Chelsea supporters, with an online petition launched against their candidacy.
A small protest was also staged at Stamford Bridge ahead of Brentford’s 4-1 win over Chelsea on Saturday, April 2.
Chelsea supporters have objected to controversies around the family including patriarch Joe Ricketts’ Islamophobic statements in leaked emails from 2019.
Siblings Tom and Laura Ricketts are thought to be considered suitable bid leaders however, owing to their Cubs stewardship and efforts towards community relations and diversity and inclusion in Chicago.
The bid also boasts major financial backing from two of America’s richest men in Ken Griffin and Dan Gilbert.
The Cubs owners’ public pledges to keep Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, reject any European Super League and to include supporters in decision-making processes are thought to have calmed any unease in Downing Street.
Broughton and Coe’s consortium’s bid for Chelsea would find favour in Government, given the duo’s clear establishment links and track record in sporting administration.
Boston Celtics chief Pagliuca’s track record in the NBA is not thought to generate any concerns in Downing Street either.
Both the Broughton and Pagliuca consortium offers would likely require divesting of other football club shares, but Government chiefs are understood to expect Raine Group to have already accounted for such detail in whittling down their shortlist.
Josh Harris and David Blitzer would have to offload their shareholding in Crystal Palace if they are named in the Broughton bid as expected, while Pagliuca would need to reduce his 55 per cent share in Italian club Atalanta.
The Boehly-Goldstein bid appears to have precious few sticking points from a Government perspective.
The heads of the four consortiums met with Chelsea’s board executives last week, aiming to gather as much information as possible amid the fine-tuning of their bids.
Russian-Israeli billionaire Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on March 2nd, amid Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.
The 55-year-old was then sanctioned by the UK government on March 10th, with Downing Street claiming to have proven his links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Chelsea have been granted a special government licence to continue operating, though under strict terms.
Abramovich cannot profit from Chelsea’s sale, but had already vowed to write off the club’s £1.5 billion debt.