Will Chelsea FC sport the Ineos logo?
Leave it to the Brits to fabricate traffic stop dramas. TV soap operas abound on both sides of the Atlantic, but this latest iteration is one for the ages. Ted Lasso takes note. And in case you were wondering what relevance this might have in the world of plastics, stay tuned for an endgame appearance by none other than the CEO of chemical company Ineos.
To set the scene: Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of England’s famed Chelsea football club and alleged accomplice (for, you know, being Russian) with fellow despotic Vladimir Putin, landed in hot water with the UK Department of Sport and the English Football Association. (FA), supervisor of the English Premier League.
The penalties have made it difficult for Chelsea to maintain their target as the arduous 10-month Premier League season draws to a close in two weeks. Major decisions such as next season’s schedule and player contracts as well as day-to-day operational concerns, such as the sale of replica shirts and even match tickets, have all been impacted.
The fact that we have a Russian national with alleged links to the very Kremlin henchmen who carried out the aggression in Ukraine and who is the sole owner of one of the biggest football clubs in the world compels him to Selling off the cuff is, indeed, high drama.
As a result, the FA demanded in early March that Mr Abramovich place his most prized toy on the trading block in order to restore the neat and orderly reputation of said league. (Never mind the multi-million pound windfall the English FA will reap following the England national team’s participation in the FIFA World Cup tournament later this year in Qatar, where reports are many about the continued abuse of workers building the tournament infrastructure. But that’s an episode for another day.)
Enter British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, CEO of chemical manufacturing giant Ineos, whose sporting interests include other football clubs on the continent as well as America’s Cup professional cycling and sailing teams.
Ratcliffe initially refused to enter the fray but, indeed, came to the table in the 11th hour with an offer of $5.3 billion, of which $3.1 Ineos says will go to aiding victims of the the war. This fundamentally disrupted proceedings for the remaining finalists who believed they had contractually secured exclusive bidding rights, namely two US sports consortia and former Liverpool Football Club chairman Martin Broughton.
This is where it gets interesting. Since the announcement in March of the club’s closure, no less than 20 suitors have quickly made their intentions known to Mr Abramovich and the FA. Just as quickly, many suitors folded their checkbooks and went home – bidding billions for a wayward sports club performance will keep even the most willful at night. Maybe they were bored and wanted to bathe in the spotlight for a few days. Or maybe they wanted to boost their stock price, impress a new mistress, or increase their social media likes. Ah, being ridiculously rich. Whatever. The drama is delicious.
It’s fascinating that, in today’s world of ultra-rich sports team owners, even being a billionaire doesn’t prevent you from getting kicked out. And why should he? We are witnessing the first major military aggression the world has not seen since World War II. Not that Mr. Abramovich had anything to do with the ongoing hostilities. But that’s irrelevant.
As we see every day on social media, what is reported and what is the truth are often diametrically opposed. It’s all about brand and what sticks. Abramovich is Russian, über-rich, and allegedly related to one of the most vile humans alive today. He has to go and, no, he can’t take his football club with him.
Apart from those Americans following the English Premier League, it is difficult for sports fans to grasp the enormity of these proceedings as professional sport in the United States is mostly limited to American competitions. Football, on the other hand, enjoys a voracious global appeal, and Chelsea are one of the richest league clubs on the planet.
And American ownership in the Premier League is not a totally foreign concept. For example, the South Florida Glazer family oversaw a rather controversial 17 years in charge of Chelsea rivals Manchester United. (Ironically, Ratcliffe is a lifelong Manchester United fan, but never thought of buying the club. Ineos never wanted to be City’s ‘dumb money’, he said. he explained to British media.) Current fan enmity levels are at an all-time high due to another poor United season. Things haven’t always gone well for American football club owners in England.
Although 2021 UEFA Champions League holders Chelsea are not in contention for both title races this season, a place in the Premier League top four automatically qualifies them for a place in the Premier League again. next season’s lucrative European tournament. Big TV rights, big salary. Ongoing proceedings jeopardize all this.
If one of the American consortia prevails and picks up their prize, it’s unclear how fans in the UK, FA or Chelsea will respond to another Yank in the ranks of their prestige league. So stay tuned: dramatic events abound and things are sure to come alive in Her Majesty’s Royal Court of Sport.