he Ricketts family have been shortlisted in the race to buy Chelsea after being forced to endure an agonising wait.
And despite concerns raised by the Supporters’ Trust over their ability to run an “inclusive, successful club,” their determination to buy out Roman Abramovich remains as strong as ever.
Tom Ricketts, who is leading their bid, insisted on Friday that he shares their passion for the European champions and vowed to convince them he was the right person to take control.
The owners of the Chicago Cubs discovered on Friday evening that they would join Sir Martin Broughton and Todd Boehly on the list of preferred bidders.
Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca has also been shortlisted.
The other two candidates had discovered their fate late on Thursday night – raising doubts over the Ricketts’ bid.
But they were always considered one of the strongest candidates, with backing from US hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who is worth around £20billion.
And confirmation from US merchant bank, Raine Group, that they had been shortlisted came as little surprise.
Now they have work to do to convince Chelsea supporters who have used the #NoToRicketts to gather opposition on social media.
And a statement from the Supporters’ Trust on Friday was another blow – especially after Tom Ricketts had met with them to try to quell unrest.
They said: “It is essential that the new owners of the club has the confidence of the supporter base and demonstrate an understanding of the values that we stand for.
“That is why the strength of feeling towards the Ricketts family bid from Chelsea supporters cannot and must not be ignored.
“The CST are grateful to the Ricketts family for meeting with us this week. We challenged them on all of the points supporters have raised concerns about.
“However, our concerns about their ability to run an inclusive, successful club on behalf of our diverse supporter base around the world have not yet been allayed.
“It is for the Ricketts family to demonstrate how they will address supporter concerns – especially with regard to inclusivity, given both past and recent statements by members of the family, and they have not yet done that. They must do so publicly and they must do so urgently. If they are unable to do this and gain the confidence of Chelsea supporters, the CST Board does not believe it would be in the best interests of our members and Chelsea supporters for their bid to succeed.”
Ricketts later responded: “My family and I are very grateful to all the fans and supporters’ groups who took time to meet with us this week and share their passion and concerns for Chelsea Football Club. It’s clear you have nothing but the best interests of the club at heart.
“We have listened to all of your feedback – including from the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust – and are grateful that the door is still open for us to demonstrate our commitment to working with fans to protect the club’s heritage.
“It is now up to us to redouble our efforts and clearly lay out a vision for our stewardship of the club with diversity and inclusion at its heart.”
The fact that Ricketts engaged, despite at that point not knowing if his bid had been shortlisted, only underlined his confidence that he will win the race to take over at Stamford Bridge.
The opposition relates to historic racist emails sent by the family’s patriarch, Joe Ricketts.
He is not involved in the bid to buy Chelsea and was condemned by members of his own family for the comments.
But that has not stopped a growing number of supporters insisting they should be discounted as contenders.
It remains to be seen if the strength of that resistance impacts on Raine’s decision, who will consider bids along with Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, board member, Eugene Tenenbaum and director Marina Granovskaia before being forwarded to the Government.
They have told shortlisted bidders that the sale could be completed by the end of April.
Information about the next stage will come over the weekend, with bidders granted access to the “data room” which will give them an insight into Chelsea’s full financial situation, including an up-to-the-minute wage bill.
Boehly and the Ricketts family have already carried out much of the due diligence required after unsuccessful attempts to buy out Abramovich in the past.
Candidates will also get an opportunity to speak to key figures at Chelsea, including Marina Granovskaia, chief executive Guy Lawrence and even Thomas Tuchel if desired.
Broughton’s bid, which includes Seb Coe, is seen as a particularly strong contender – and it was no surprise that it was shortlisted. The former chairman of Liverpool and British Airways has experience running a Premier League football club and is credited with guiding the Merseysiders through the much-maligned era of George Gillet and Tom Hicks before the takeover of Fenway Sports Group. Lord Coe is the man who delivered the 2012 Olympic Games for London and both are life-long Chelsea fans.One doubt has been the identity of their backers, widely believed to be Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who are shareholders in Crystal Palace. But sources close to the bid insist Broughton consortium is made up of global backers. Raine have clearly been sufficiently convinced to advance the bid.
Boehly, whose consortium includes Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and property developer Jonathan Goldstein, has also been a frontrunner throughout.
As the part owner of the LA Dodgers, he fits the preferred profile of Chelsea, the Premier League and the FA as a candidate with experience of owning a major sports team. The Ricketts family fit that description too.
The shortlisting process has already taken longer than candidates anticipated, with Raine indicating last week that preferred bidders could find out as early as Monday if they were successful. Confusion reigned on Thursday as news of rejected bids began to filter out. Saudi Media, who had backing from sections of support on social media, discovered early that they would not be advanced to the next stage. They are said to be open to joining forces with another consortium.
Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, also failed to make it onto the shortlist, despite initially being seen as a strong contender.
Property tycoon Nick Candy has not been shortlisted, but spent Friday discussing the possibility of joining another bid.
A spokesperson said: “We continue to evaluate and participate in meaningful conversations with the bidding process.
“Nick has always made it clear that the fans and safeguarding the future of the club are his only interests in this process.”