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Sun 18 Jan 2009 11:06 AM

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Abramovich looks to Gulf for Chelsea buyer

The Russian billionaire visits Saudi Arabia and Dubai to sound out buyers - UK newspaper.

Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire, has been touring the Gulf sounding out potential buyers for Chelsea football club, it was reported Sunday.

Representatives of the oligarch have travelled to Saudi Arabia and Dubai to elicit interest in the club, according to UK daily The Sunday Times.

At least one of the meetings was with members of the Saudi royal family.

However, there has been no evidence so far of a potential buyer.

The Middle East has become the cash cow for British football teams.

Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, the owner of Manchester City, hopes to sign the Brazilian star Kaka from AC Milan in a deal that could cost up to £243m in payments and salary.

One source said: “Abramovich’s team have been out in the Middle East sounding out what interest there is in buying the club.”

Chelsea insisted last night that Abramovich was still fully committed to the club on which he has lavished hundreds of millions of pounds.

A Chelsea spokesman said it was “total nonsense” that the Russian was willing to sell the club.

He bought Chelsea for about £60m in 2003, taking over £80m in debts, and has since provided at least £500m in loans to buy new players.

Sources say that if Abramovich can recoup his money, he might now be ready to sell after five years in which he turned Chelsea into a Champions League side that has twice won the English Premier League.

Chelsea reached their first Champions League final last season and Abramovich watched as they were beaten in a penalty shoot-out by Manchester United in Moscow in May.

He was absent from last weekend’s 3-0 defeat by United, which many feel will pave the way for Chelsea’s rivals to win the Premier League for a third successive year.

Yesterday he left his seat at Stamford Bridge with 15 minutes of the game remaining with Chelsea losing 1-0 at home to lowly Stoke. It took two late goals to secure victory.

City sources believe it would cost at least £800m to buy out Abramovich when the “going rate” for a Champions League side is about £500m. Mansour was able to snap up Manchester City for about £200m.

Abramovich’s wealth has fallen sharply in the down-turn. Philip Beresford, who compiles The Sunday Times Rich List, conservatively estimates that Abramovich has lost £3 billion from his £11.7 billion fortune.

City experts question whether he may have a short-term problem with liquidity and needs cash. Some of Chelsea’s superstars are paid £120,000 a week.

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