A pack of suitors from international sport, property and finance are this weekend exploring bids to take control of Chelsea Football Club from the Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Sky News has learnt that the owners of the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball (MLB) team have begun considering an offer for the West London club, and are expected to hold talks with prospective financing partners about a proposal.
Insiders said that Nick Candy, the property entrepreneur and a lifelong Chelsea fan, had expressed an interest to The Raine Group, the merchant bank overseeing the sale for Mr Abramovich, and was exploring forming a consortium to bid for the current world club champions.
Another potential bidder is the Mixed Martial Arts star Conor McGregor, who declared on Twitter an “opening offer” of £1.5bn earlier this week.
Sky News understands that Mr McGregor’s management company Paradigm Sports, is working with McGregor Sports & Entertainment and Empowerment IP Capital, which is headed by the prominent sports financier Stephen Duval, on a bid for Chelsea.
One source said that Mr McGregor’s consortium was also in discussions with a major global asset management company to provide financial firepower for a bid.
A formal offer from the MMA fighter is expected to be “far above” the £1.5bn referred to in Mr McGregor’s remarks this week.
The cluster of interested parties join a consortium headed by the LA Dodgers shareholder Todd Boehly – who is working with Swiss businessman Hansjorg Wyss – among the field of bidders.
Mr Boehly, who has tried to buy Chelsea from Mr Abramovich in the past, had a £2.5bn offer rejected by Raine this week.
A Turkish billionaire, Muhsin Bayrak, said publicly on Friday that he was in talks with Mr Abramovich’s lawyers to acquire the club, although this claim was rejected by people close to the process.
The apparent interest of the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, is arguably the most eye-catching of the names to be linked to efforts to end Mr Abramovich’s 19-year ownership of the club.
One source linked a bid from the family, who tried to buy AC Milan in 2018, to Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive of Citadel Asset Management and one of the most successful – and wealthiest – executives in the American hedge fund industry.
The connection to Mr Griffin could not, however, be verified, and neither Citadel nor the Chicago Cubs responded to a request for comment.
The Ineos tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe has in recent days sought to distance himself from any fresh interest in a deal, although other prolific sports investors, including Arctos Sports Partners, are said to be monitoring the situation closely.
Raine has asked interested parties to submit indicative offers by the middle of the month, although it has insisted that the process is not a fire-sale and that it is focused on ensuring that ownership of Chelsea passes to an appropriate steward of the club’s interests.
A deal could be concluded by May, according to insiders, with the Premier League chief executive Richard Masters saying this week that scrutiny of a transaction under the league’s fit-and-proper ownership test could be fast-tracked.
The sale of Chelsea could nevertheless be complicated by any decision to include Mr Abramovich on the list of sanctioned individuals following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Putin government’s move has sparked turmoil in financial markets around the world, sending commodity prices soaring and sparking a rush by multinationals to sever their ties to Russia.
Questions about the viability of a transaction against the current geopolitical backdrop are likely to persist until a transaction is concluded.
Mr Abramovich, who has long-denied links to the Putin regime, is reported to also be putting his London property portfolio up for sale.
The issue of Mr Abramovich’s links to the Russian state was raised by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, amid pressure for tougher sanctions against Russian oligarchs.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Abramovich said he had decided to put Chelsea up for sale as “I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners”.
He added that the net proceeds of the sale would be donated to a new foundation established to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.
The Chelsea owner has also written off a £1.5bn loan to the club, but is understood to be determined to secure a valuation of at least £3bn from a sale.
Mr Abramovich has owned Chelsea since 2003, and has ploughed unprecedented financing into the Stamford Bridge side in order to deliver consistent footballing success.
Under his ownership, Chelsea have won the Champions League twice, the Premier League and FA Cup five times and a significant number of other trophies.
None of the parties contacted by Sky News this weekend would comment on their interest in Chelsea, while Raine could not be reached for comment.