Goldman Sachs, the powerful Wall Street investment bank, has stormed into the £3bn auction of Chelsea Football Club as an adviser to one of the leading bidders.
Sky News has learnt that Goldman has been signed up to advise the consortium being led by Todd Boehly, one of the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.
The addition of Goldman to Mr Boehly’s bid is understood to have been disclosed in an offer letter sent to Raine, the merchant bank overseeing Chelsea’s sale, on Friday.
While Goldman’s involvement is limited at this stage to an advisory rather than financing role, its decision to work with Mr Boehly underlines its apparent status as one of the frontrunners to succeed Roman Abramovich as the Blues’ owner.
Spokesmen for Goldman and Mr Boehly both declined to comment on Saturday.
News of the Wall Street bank’s role comes less than 24 hours after Sky News revealed that Clearlake Capital, a California-based investment firm, had joined the consortium, which also includes Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss businessman, and Jonathan Goldstein, a London-based property investor.
Raine is expected to whittle down dozens of preliminary offers to fewer than a handful in the next few days, leading to more serious and detailed negotiations with the remaining contenders.
Sources said the bid led by Mr Boehly was now “overfunded”, meaning that it, like a number of Chelsea’s other prospective buyers, have secured more capital than they are likely to require to buy the club.
This is largely because of the truncated timetable on which the sale process is being conducted following the sanctioning of Roman Abramovich, the Blues’ owner since 2003.
Lord Finkelstein, a Times journalist, and Barbara Charone, a celebrity publicist, would join Chelsea’s board as non-executive directors if the Boehly bid is successful, it emerged this week.
A source close to the group said its offer could be implemented rapidly and that the required capital was ready to be deployed immediately, paving the way for a rapid change of ownership at Stamford Bridge.
Mr Boehly’s consortium would provide long-term funding for Chelsea, including the redevelopment of its Stamford Bridge home, its academy and its women’s team, the source added.
Other bidders seen as viable contenders include: a group – also revealed by Sky News – comprising the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and Ken Griffin, the American hedge fund billionaire; Nick Candy, the property entrepreneur; and Sir Martin Broughton, whose involvement in the auction was first reported by Sky News last weekend.
On Friday, Mr Candy’s bid – through a vehicle called the Blue Football Consortium – confirmed that it had secured financial backing from two South Korean companies among a consortium of global investors.
“Chelsea is one of the most iconic and successful professional football clubs in the world, with a rich heritage, global following, and a highly valuable brand,” Mr Candy said.
“Football clubs are vitally important community and cultural assets, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give football back to the fans and put them at the heart of the operations and strategy of a leading global football club.”
The bid led by Sir Martin, which includes the support of Lord Coe, the former British Olympian, is being backed by the American hedge fund billionaire and sports investor Josh Harris.
Sky News reported last weekend that Sir Martin was in talks with Mr Harris about a joint offer for Chelsea.
“I have a track record of success in boardrooms throughout my career and I have done this before,” Sir Martin, the former British Airways chairman, said.
“I remain the only person to have effected a change of ownership at a major football club in a similar situation, which I did at Liverpool 12 years ago.
“But most importantly, as a lifelong fan, I am committed to ensuring Chelsea maintains its preeminent position at the top of European football and making sure we put fans first.”
Chelsea is operating under a government-issued licence which imposes strict spending limits on the club, and which prevents it from selling new match tickets or merchandise.
Last week, Chelsea’s corporate credit cards were frozen by Barclays as the British bank sought to clarify the implications of the sanctions against Mr Abramovich, deepening the sense of anxiety surrounding the club’s finances.
Chelsea face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup quarter-final on Saturday evening, following a row this week over the London club’s hastily withdrawn request that the match be played behind closed doors for reasons of “sporting integrity”.
A quickfire sale of Chelsea is seen as essential if it 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 Mr Abramovich’s ownership during the last two decades.
The government has been clear that none of the proceeds from a takeover could flow to the Russian-born billionaire.
The cluster of American investors circling Chelsea underlines the extent to which the English Premier League has become a magnet for financiers from across the Atlantic during the last 20 years.
Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have all been acquired by US-based businessmen during that period, and a significant number of other top-flight clubs also have American backing.
Last season’s Champions League-winners have been thrown into disarray by Russia’s war on Ukraine, with Mr Abramovich initially proposing to place the club in the care of its foundation and then formally putting it up for sale.
Mr Abramovich had initially slapped a £3bn price tag on the Stamford Bridge outfit, with the net proceeds being donated to a charitable foundation set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.
The value of the bids tabled on Friday remains unclear, however.
Last week, Chelsea sponsors such as Three UK, the mobile telecoms network, and Hyundai, the Korean car-maker, announced that they were suspending their association with the club.
Whoever buys the club will require the government’s consent in the form of a special licence as well as the approval of the Premier League under its fit and proper ownership test.