Sir Martin Broughton, the British businessman who rescued Liverpool from a bitter boardroom battle a decade ago, is in talks to spearhead a rescue bid for Chelsea as new details emerge about the financial chaos into which last season’s Champions League-winners have been plunged.
Sky News has learnt that Sir Martin, a lifelong Chelsea fan, has held discussions in recent days about playing a role in bids being prepared by Todd Boehly, the LA Dodgers baseball team’s part-owner, and Josh Harris, a backer of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball side.
The former British Airways chairman is also negotiating with potential financial backers about tabling his own bid, as a field of international suitors circles Chelsea ahead of a deadline for offers next week.
If he does become formally involved in a takeover, it would come 12 years after Sir Martin orchestrated the sale of Liverpool to Fenway Sports Group, bringing the curtain down on the disastrous reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett and ushering in the most successful period in the Reds’ recent history.
Significantly, Sir Martin remains the only person to have effected a change of ownership at a major football club at the behest of the UK government – which he did at Liverpool by virtue of the state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland’s status as the club’s biggest lender.
Sir Martin, 74, was a major figure in British business for decades, running British American Tobacco and then becoming chairman of British Airways.
He now chairs Sports Investment Partners, a private investment firm which has backed businesses in areas such as sports technology and event management.
Read more: How sanctions on Abramovich will affect fans
One insider said that any bid for Chelsea that Sir Martin was involved in would need to reserve an ownership stake in the club for supporters – a decision that would be expected to win government backing as it prepares to respond to former sports minister Tracey Crouch’s review of football governance.
Sir Martin, who attended his first match at Stamford Bridge in 1955, declined to comment on any aspect of the potential transaction but said: “There’s a real need to change everyone’s mindset. There’s too much emphasis on Roman as the legal owner and not enough on the Ukrainian victims – who to all intents and purposes are the beneficial owners – and the fans who are the emotional owners.”
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, Sir Martin added that Chelsea’s shirt sponsor, the mobile phone network Three UK, needed “to stop thinking about their brand being contaminated by Roman and start thinking about how they can enhance their brand by supporting the Ukrainian victims, and how they can strengthen their emotional bond with the fans.”
“Most of all, the government must prevent the club going into administration.
“That would destroy at least £500m value, which means £500m less going to the victims of the war.
“Surely, after all the brilliant efforts of the British public in raising some £200m in donations, no government wants that on their hands as an unintended consequence of their actions.”
On another day of seismic developments affecting Chelsea, the Premier League disqualified owner Roman Abramovich from being a director, but said the move would not affect players’ ability to train or fulfil the club’s fixtures.
The government also amended the licence enabling Chelsea to continue operating, increasing the sum it can spend on each home match from £500,000 to £900,000 and permitting the club to receive and spend income from broadcast rights and prize money.
Sky News can also reveal that Jonathan Goldstein, a London-based investor who owns the Prezzo chain of restaurants, is part of Mr Boehly’s consortium that is battling to gain control of Chelsea.
Mr Goldstein runs Cain International, a property and development group that could be instrumental in revamping Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge home or the construction of a new stadium.
He and Mr Boehly have been partners for the last eight years, and insiders confirmed on Saturday that Mr Goldstein would take an ownership stake in Chelsea if their bid is successful.
The two men worked together on an unsuccessful bid for Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea’s London rivals, in 2018.
The third member of their consortium is Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who is reported to have a long-standing relationship with Mr Abramovich.
City sources said that insolvency practitioners and lawyers had begun circling Chelsea amid suggestions that the club’s sale may have to be implemented through a pre-pack administration process.
Those fears were stoked on Friday when it emerged that Chelsea’s corporate credit cards had been frozen by Barclays as the British bank sought to clarify the implications of the sanctions against Mr Abramovich.
If it fell into administration, it would trigger an automatic points deduction under Premier League rules and would make Chelsea the biggest club in English football history to be declared insolvent.
One insider acknowledged that the club’s directors were, in accordance with their legal duties, preparing for all possible outcomes, including a potential administration process.
The likelihood of this is, however, seen as remote, particularly after the amended licence granted on Saturday by the government provided the club with additional financial headroom.
The many unanswered questions about the sale of Chelsea now concern the price that a buyer will have to pay, the destination of the proceeds and any role that Mr Abramovich will have in determining the identity of whoever inherits ownership of the club after nearly 20 years in his hands.
This week, Chelsea sponsors such as Three UK, the mobile telecoms network, suspended its association with the club after the government added Mr Abramovich to its sanctions list, and the club was banned from opening its retail outlets or selling new match tickets to fans.
Sky News revealed on Friday evening that bidders had been given extra time to table offers, with a new deadline of next Friday.
Chelsea play their next game at home to Newcastle – now majority-owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – on Sunday, with the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge expected to be febrile as uncertainty clouds the club’s future.
Raine, the US merchant bank running the auction, notified prospective bidders that it and Chelsea had “coordinated with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and UK Government Investments [UKGI] and will be moving forward with the sale process”.
A rapid sale is seen as essential if Chelsea is to remain solvent and therefore retain the nucleus of a playing squad which has become established as one of Europe’s most successful under Roman Abramovich’s ownership during the last two decades.
The government has been clear that none of the proceeds from a takeover could flow to Mr Abramovich.
Bidders were also told in the communication from Raine on Friday that the “successful closing of the sale of Chelsea FC will require a special licence to be approved by UKGI, approving both the source and use of funds”.
“We will work with the authorities in the UK to obtain that licence in connection with any transaction,” it added.
Among the other potential bidders for Chelsea are consortia led by the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family and the British property entrepreneur Nick Candy, who is regarded as being a highly credible party by government sources.