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Chelsea’s future is plunged into doubt

The future of European champions Chelsea has been plunged into doubt after Russian owner Roman Abramovich was hit Thursday with UK government sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich

Abramovich has bankrolled the most successful era in the Blues’ history since taking charge in 2003, the club have won five Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues among 19 major trophies. The billionaire, described by the UK government as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, had already signaled his intention to sell the club last week as pressure mounted.

UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the priority was to “hold those who have enabled the Putin regime to account”.

Chelsea, who are in Premier League action against Norwich later on Thursday, have been given a special licence to continue to operate but nevertheless face tough restrictions. They said they would seek talks with the government to amend the licence to “allow the club to operate as normal as possible.”

AFP Sport looks at what Abramovich’s sanctions mean for the club.

Sale on hold

The freezing of Abramovich’s assets means any sale of the club is on hold for now.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed a new licence would need to be granted for the club to change hands and in a manner that would not allow the Russian to profit.

A number of interested bidders have signalled their interest in the club, although many believed Abramovich’s reported £3 billion ($4 billion) asking price was unrealistic.

Season to be completed

The current licence given to the club to allow their day-to-day operations to continue is due to expire on May 31, after the end of the season.

Chelsea confirmed both their men’s and women’s teams would fulfil their fixtures on Thursday. In a statement the Premier League said: “The league will now work with the club and the government to ensure the season will proceed as planned and in line with the government’s intention.”

Chelsea still have 12 Premier League games left to play this season, are into the FA Cup quarter-finals and hold a 2-0 first leg lead over Lille in the Champions League last 16. Thomas Tuchel’s side sit third in the Premier League and are well on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Players can be paid

Chelsea’s licence allows the club to continue paying staff and costs for the hosting of matches at Stamford Bridge. However, travel costs for away games have been capped at £20,000 per match, which could cause issues for away matches in the Champions League, with Chelsea set to travel to French club Lille next week.

No signings or new contracts

Chelsea can continue to pay money they owe for transfer agreements made prior to March 10, 2022. However, no exception has been granted for the recruitment of new players or agreeing new contracts.

Chelsea risk losing captain Cesar Azpilicueta and key defender Antonio Rudiger, among those out of contract at the end of the season, on free transfers.

No new tickets or merchandise sales

Season ticket holders at Stamford Bridge will be allowed to attend matches, but no ticket or merchandise sales are permitted.

That could mean away fans are shut out of Stamford Bridge and Chelsea supporters are blocked from travelling to away games. The club shop at Stamford Bridge has been shut down.

TV/prize money frozen

The money due to the club from highly lucrative television contracts for the Premier League and Champions League can be paid to Chelsea. However, that cash is to be frozen, raising the question of how the club will continue to meet its payroll demands in the coming months.

Despite winning the Champions League last season, Chelsea made a £153 million loss in the year to June 30, 2021. That was due to a £309 million wage bill even before the club-record signing of Romelu Lukaku for £97 million in August.

Chelsea’s shirt sponsor, telecommunications company Three, are reportedly reviewing their £40 million-a-season deal with the club.

“The concern might be what happens if Chelsea’s cash reserves are insufficient to pay their wage bill,” football finance expert Kieran Maguire told the BBC.