MANCHESTER, England : A deadline of 2100 GMT on Friday has been set for bidders to table offers to buy Chelsea, with business people from different continents forming unlikely alliances to acquire the Premier League club.
Chelsea were initially put up for sale by owner Roman Abramovich following Russia's invasion of Ukraine before sanctions were imposed on the Russian oligarch by the British government.
The European champions are currently operating under a special licence and are now effectively controlled by the British government.
Raine Group, a U.S. bank, has been overseeing the sale process since before the Russian billionaire was sanctioned, and have set a 2100 GMT deadline for offers to be submitted.
Raine will make a decision around the preferred bidder and the government will only step in once they have received satisfactory evidence that Abramovich will not make any financial gain.
From there it will be up to the prospective buyer to pass the Premier League's Owners' and Directors' Test before completing their takeover.
The Owners' and Directors' Test outlines requirements that would prohibit an individual from becoming an owner or director of a club. These include criminal convictions for a wide range of offences, a ban by a sporting or professional body, or breaches of certain key football regulations, such as match-fixing.
One bidder has already submitted an offer. London-based financial firm Aethel Partners confirmed to Reuters that they have put in a bid of over 2 billion pounds ($2.63 billion) for Chelsea, adding that they will provide the club with an immediate sum of 50 million pounds to deal with any short-term financial issues.
Some famous faces are involved in several other prospective bids. British property developer Nick Candy, a Chelsea supporter, said he was interested in making a offer, and has been joined by former player and manager Gianluca Vialli.
"I have met Nick Candy on a number of occasions over the last few weeks and I am fully behind his visions," Vialli said in a statement, after it was announced the company he co-founded, Tifosy, will act as lead advisor for the process.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has joined a consortium including former Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton that hopes to buy Chelsea.
"I am certain Sir Martin is the right man to lead Chelsea Football Club into its next chapter," Coe said in a statement to British media.
Two of the consortiums interested in buying Chelsea have been growing in number as the deadline approaches.
Swiss billionaire Hansjoerg Wyss, who has linked up with LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly to express an interest in buying Chelsea, has been joined by British businessman Jonathan Goldstein and Conservative peer Daniel Finkelstein.
"I'm passionate about Chelsea to the point of eccentricity," Finkelstein wrote on Twitter. "I want owners who will invest but are also insightful and use modern methods to keep our club on top of the world. I believe Todd Boehly would be just such an owner."
The other alliance sees the owners of U.S. baseball team the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family, teaming up with Citadel founder Ken Griffin to work on a bid to buy Chelsea, a spokesperson for both parties said.
Reuters has been told the bid does not involve Citadel, the hedge fund business, only Griffin.
Others could come in last minute, with reports of interest from Saudi Media Group and another consortium led by former captain John Terry.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge)