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Boehly leads race for Chelsea after Jim Ratcliffe tries to gatecrash deal

A US consortium led by financier and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team Todd Boehly has been selected as the preferred bidder in the race to buy Chelsea Football Club.

The decision by advisers to current owner Roman Abramovich, who was forced to sell after Russia invaded Ukraine, comes as UK chemicals tycoon Jim Ratcliffe tried to gatecrash the deal with a last-minute bid.

Ratcliffe, owner of the petrochemicals group Ineos, has lined up £4.25bn to buy Chelsea. He is styling his offer as a “British bid, for a British club” with the aim of winning the support of the UK government, which will approve the final bidder selected.

The US consortium led by Boehly, which has the financial backing of US private equity group Clearlake Capital, was informed on Friday that it could enter exclusive talks to buy Chelsea, said people with knowledge of the process.

The other US bidders, one camp led by private equity tycoons Josh Harris and David Blitzer; and another by basketball moguls Stephen Pagliuca and Larry Tanenbaum, were both informed that their bids were runners-up, the people said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that Boehly had entered exclusive talks with Chelsea.

INEOS Group chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe
British petrochemicals tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe tried to gatecrash the deal with a last-minute bid © AFP/Getty Images

US boutique bank Raine Group has been managing the sales process, which has lasted more than a month and involved scores of potential bidders

Ratcliffe pledged £2.5bn of his offer to support victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the remaining £1.75bn earmarked for investment in the football club over the next decade, Ineos said on Friday, including investment in Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium. The Times first reported Ratcliffe’s bid.

Ratcliffe’s sports investments include the Mercedes Formula One racing team, the Ineos Grenadiers cycling group and French football club OGC Nice. Ineos also funds the UK’s America’s Cup sailing team.

Abramovich, who shot to prominence in the UK after buying Chelsea in 2003, turned down a takeover proposal from Ineos in 2018.

The auction for Chelsea has attracted interest from billionaires, institutional investors and star athletes, offering a rare opportunity to buy a big brand team in the most lucrative football league in the world.

Abramovich and his fortune turned Chelsea into world beaters. The club won five Premier League titles, breaking the grip of Manchester United and Arsenal, and took on Europe’s elite in the Uefa Champions League, winning it for a second time last year.

The sale requires special approval from the UK government, which has sanctioned Abramovich and imposed restrictions on Chelsea that prevent the club from selling merchandise and new tickets to home fans. It is currently operating under a government licence, which runs until the end of May and allows the team to keep playing matches.

The Premier League must also give its approval for the sale.

The UK government has warned that Abramovich cannot benefit from the sale proceeds. Abramovich has said he intends to donate the money to victims of the war.

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