Sir Jim Ratcliffe has not given up hope of hijacking the deal to buy Chelsea, despite Todd Boehly’s consortium being selected as the club’s preferred bidder, and has held talks with supporter groups to outline his vision for the club.
Boehly’s group are in the middle of a five-day exclusivity period and remain the favourites to buy Chelsea, who want to open contract talks with Mason Mount and Reece James once a takeover has been completed. The terms of a deal for the club could be agreed with Roman Abramovich this week.
However Ratcliffe’s £4.25bn bid last Friday is a potential complication. The British billionaire’s late offer was revealed while Raine, the US bank handling the sale, was telling the three shortlisted contenders that Boehly’s group were the preferred bidders, and the 69-year-old is not prepared to walk away yet.
A source close to Abramovich cautioned against writing off Ratcliffe, whose involvement explains why Raine has not publicly confirmed Boehly has beaten competition from consortiums led by Sir Martin Broughton and Steve Pagliuca.
Ratcliffe, who owns the British petrochemicals company Ineos, signalled his seriousness by meeting the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust last weekend. He insisted he would be in it for the long term, revealed plans to raise Stamford Bridge’s capacity to 60,000 and said he wanted to turn Chelsea into the Real Madrid or Bayern Munich of London. A Trust spokesperson said: “While the CST has had initial talks with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his team, no further meeting is yet in the diary.”
The likelihood remains that Boehly’s consortium, which includes his fellow LA Dodgers owner Mark Walter, the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, the British property developer Jonathan Goldstein and the US investment firm Clearlake Capital, will become Chelsea’s new owners.
However Ratcliffe, who offered to pay £2.5bn for Chelsea and pledged to invest £1.75bn over the next 10 years, is poised if talks with Boehly break down. Pagliuca’s and Broughton’s consortiums are also on standby.
Eyebrows have been raised at Ratcliffe making his bid two weeks after the deadline and bypassing the rules set by Raine. A source close to a rival bidder said it would be unprofessional for Ratcliffe, who made his offer after talks with Chelsea’s chairman, Bruce Buck, to be considered.
Chelsea, who will need to ask the government for a new licence to complete the sale, will be keen to avoid further delays. Their operating licence runs out on 31 May and the sanctions imposed on Abramovich have affected Thomas Tuchel’s side, who risk being dragged into a battle to finish in the top four after losing three of their past six league games.
The sanctions have stopped Chelsea from selling or buying players and mean they cannot hand out new contracts. The uncertainty has played a part in Antonio Rüdiger’s impending move to Real Madrid on a free transfer, creating unrest in the dressing room, and has led to rival clubs exploring the possibility of signing Mount and James.
Boehly’s group are aware of the need to start contract talks with James and Mount. The duo are two of the best players to emerge from Chelsea’s academy and are unlikely to want to leave but there is a need to ensure they do not begin to feel undervalued.
Mount has two years left on his deal and although the midfielder is seen as a future Chelsea captain he is one of their lowest-paid players. The 23-year-old, one of Tuchel’s most important players, earns about £70,000 a week. Romelu Lukaku, whose future is increasingly uncertain, earns more than £300,000 a week.
Sources have warned that Chelsea could run into unnecessary problems if they play hardball with Mount. Insiders say the club must avoid a repeat of the situation with Rüdiger. The commanding centre-back earns about £90,000 a week and felt his performances merited a lucrative pay rise, only for negotiations to break down.
James, who has three years left on a deal worth about £100,000 a week, is attracting interest from top European clubs.
Chelsea will not want to do anything that would risk upsetting Tuchel. They are set to lose Andreas Christensen on a free to Barcelona, who are also hopeful of signing Marcos Alonso and César Azpilicueta. Tuchel will need to spend heavily on his defence and there are also issues in midfield, with Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté out of contract next year. Jorginho is a target for Juventus.
In attack there are doubts over Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner. Pulisic has two years on his deal and is unhappy about his lack of playing time. Lukaku could also be allowed to leave after the £97.5m striker failed to make it off the bench during Chelsea’s defeat by Everton.