A new era is well under way at Chelsea. The club may still be preparing to make their first significant inroads into the summer transfer market but, off the field, the structure has been revamped and a fresh hierarchy put in place.
A nine-strong board was announced last week as the chairman Todd Boehly and his fellow investors and directors seek to execute their “long-term vision and plan for the club”. The ownership have promised to back Thomas Tuchel, Emma Hayes and their respective teams, and, according to the representatives of Clearlake Capital, “will provide proactive, unbending support” to push the club on.
Their ambition was demonstrated in a takeover that will end up costing £4.25 billion. Now comes the real work.
So who are the nine new figures on the board? Where regulars at Stamford Bridge had long since grown used to seeing Bruce Buck, Marina Granovskaia or even Eugene Tenenbaum surveying the scene from up in the directors’ box, or from a corporate area high up in the west stand once frequented by Roman Abramovich before his trips to London were curtailed, now the ownership in situ will be very different.
They are about as eclectic as mix as is possible, ranging from the Conservative peer with an addiction to Diet Coke to the owner of a nature reserve which is home to tigers and rhinos; a highly respected music PR executive who counts Keith Richards and Madonna as friends to a former tennis player on the ATP circuit. Their stories loosely link hikes in the Rockies to Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue and, well, pork rind. And, where once there was only Abramovich, now there are five billionaires on the board.
Here, The Athletic looks at the figures overseeing Chelsea’s brave new world.
Todd Boehly — chairman, co-controlling owner and interim sporting director
Boehly has been the public face of the group since the sale’s process for Chelsea began back in March, attending games regularly while the auction was ongoing and maintaining his presence at Stamford Bridge once Raine Group had afforded preferred bidder status on his consortium.
He stood at the mouth of the tunnel on the final afternoon of the season having finally seen his new team win a game, a plastic bag from the club shop on his shoulder, fist-bumping and clapping hands with Chelsea’s players as they re-emerged onto the turf for the post-match lap of appreciation.
A former high school wrestler, he was a member of the Landon School team, nicknamed the Bears, who won the Interstate Athletic Conference in 1990 and 1991. He now has a wrestling room named in his honour at the private school in Bethesda, Maryland. Boehly went on to attend The College of William & Mary in Virginia, where he met his wife Katie, but admitted to being “overwhelmed” by his studies. A pep talk from his former maths and geometry teacher turned mentor from Landon, Steve Sorkin, prompted the then-teenager to spend time at the London School of Economics — a stint as a student that whetted his appetite for life in England.
He graduated and went on to work at CS First Boston in New York, the investment banking division of Credit Suisse, before stints at the venture capitalists JH Whitney & Co and, in 2001, Guggenheim Partners, where he notably advised clients to avoid investing in several companies — including Enron — subsequently exposed for major fraud.
In 2015, he co-founded the investment firm Eldridge Industries, which has grown into a diverse conglomerate with investments as varied as the sports betting firm DraftKings, a company that owns the restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien, Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlours, and the song catalogues of Springsteen and the Killers. Eldridge’s assets are now worth $40 billion.
Boehly, whose own worth is listed as $4.5 billion by Forbes and whose philanthropy is well established in the United States, holds minority stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers — Eldridge has a separate minority stake in the Dodgers — and had a £2.2 billion offer for Chelsea rejected by Abramovich in 2019. He and his wife live in Darien, on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, with their children Nick, Zach and Clay.
His enthusiasm for his new brief at Chelsea is reflected in his eagerness to take on the interim sporting director role this summer, effectively overseeing the squad’s rebuild. Plenty would find that task daunting. Boehly seems galvanised, in keeping with his outlook on business.
Behdad Eghbali and Jose E. Feliciano — co-controlling owners
The co-founders and managing partners of Clearlake Capital, the private equity firm based in Santa Monica, California, may boast lower public profiles than Boehly but their influence within the new structure at Chelsea will be significant. Clearlake are understood to own in the region of 60 per cent of the club, with Eghbali and Feliciano co-controlling owners. Chelsea’s fortunes will be tied to those of the firm, based at 233 Wilshire Boulevard, from now on in.
Born in Iran, Eghbali is understood to have arrived in the United States at the age of 10 — initially on a tourist visa — with his parents, who had feared he might eventually be conscripted for the Iran-Iraq war. He studied business administration and management at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, before taking his first steps into the world of private equity investment with stints at Turbolinux and Texas Pacific Group.
Feliciano, a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico — a city best known for the locally produced pork rind — moved to the US in 1990 to study mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, and later secured an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.
He worked in investment banking in the mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance groups at Goldman Sachs, was the chief financial officer at govWorks before it declared bankruptcy in 2001, before playing a senior role at Tennenbaum Capital Partners, a leading alternative investment management firm.
In recent years, Feliciano has joined the board of trustees of Stanford University and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino, and sits on the board of the non-profit advocacy organisation Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which works alongside activists to ensure positive changes in governments and corporations, and the Robert Toigo Foundation — a body dedicated to promoting career advancement for under-represented talent.
He and Eghbali, whose net wealth are each listed by Forbes as $3.4 billion, teamed up in 2006 to found Clearlake just ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. The company established its reputation buying nice industrial, consumer and tech companies and, particularly over the last few years, have sanctioned a rush of acquisitions. It manages more than £60 billion in assets and is increasingly venturing into the realm of sports.
The pair, who remain managing partners at Clearlake, struck up a relationship with Boehly while the latter was selling his firm’s debt manager, CBAM. Clearlake ended up in a bidding war with the Carlyle Group and, although they were eventually put off by the asking price, they became close with Boehly through the process.
Mark Walter — co-owner
Walter grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his father worked in a factory producing concrete blocks, and attended the city’s Jefferson High School. He was an accounting major at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska — where he played intramural sports and was a member of the philosophy society — and studied law at Northwestern University, to whom he gave $40 million in 2014. He briefly worked for a Chicago law firm but quickly decided against practising law and, instead, ventured into finance.
Having co-founded the Liberty Hampshire Company with Steven E. Johnson in Chicago, he helped put together the global financial services firm Guggenheim Partners with Peter Lawson-Johnston II — a great grandson of Meyer Guggenheim, the industrialist and mining magnate who emigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1847, and grandson of the art collector and businessman, Solomon R. Guggenheim — in 2000. Walter has worked as their CEO in the period since, with Boehly joining in 2001.
The company now boasts over $310 billion in assets, with Guggenheim Baseball Management, formed in 2011, having acquired the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion.
Walter, a baseball fan with a net worth of around $3.8 billion, boasts various personal investments including stakes in businesses as diverse as plant-based food makers to online car vendors. He and his wife Kimbra, a lawyer, own a wildlife preserve in Florida known as White Oak. The 17,000-acre sanctuary is home to over 400 animals, including cheetahs, okapi, elephants, rhinos and two tigers.
Hansjorg Wyss — co-owner
Boehly may have become the most high-profile figure within the consortium who ended up taking control of Chelsea but it was Wyss, the Swiss octogenarian billionaire, who first broke cover to reveal his interest in purchasing the Premier League club. That was treated at the time with a degree of scepticism from the outside. Now a philanthropist worth $5 billion, according to Forbes, sits on the board of the London club.
Wyss was born in Bern in 1935. His father was an artist, dragging the youngster to galleries and museums, while his mother engaged actively in politics, campaigning for women’s rights. Hansjorg went on to earn a master’s degree in civil and structural engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in 1959. He had visited the US as an exchange student the year before his graduation and later returned to attend the Harvard Business School. He initially worked in textile engineering upon his graduation, fulfilling various roles with the car manufacturer Chrysler that took him through stints in Pakistan, Turkey and the Philippines, before taking up a role in the steel industry.
Having befriended one of the cofounders of Synthes, a medical device manufacturer, Wyss founded and became president of the company’s US division in 1977. He was Synthes’ worldwide CEO and chairman until 2007, and company chairman until 2012 when the firm was sold to Johnson & Johnson in a deal worth $19.7 billion. He still holds stakes in the publicly traded biotech firms NovoCure and Molecular Partners.
A keen skier and climber in his youth, with regular hikes up into the Rocky Mountains, the resident of Wilson, Wyoming — he has never stated whether he holds citizenship or permanent residency in the US — has taken pride from the fact he drives a Toyota Prius “which has the best energy to performance ratio” and signed the Giving Pledge in 2013. His charitable foundations boast assets worth over $2 billion.
He gave $120 million to the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich (a research university) in 2014 to establish a centre to accelerate medical breakthroughs, has founded research institutions in Geneva and another in Zurich, and, having already donated 16,000 acres of forest land to a Romanian conservation organisation, pledged $1 billion by 2028 to environmental efforts around the world. “For the sake of all living things,” he wrote in the New York Times, “let’s see to it that far more of our planet is protected by the people, for the people, and for all time.”
He has no history of sports team ownership.
Jonathan Goldstein — co-owner
The middle brother of three, Goldstein grew up in Ilford, east London, and, having initially been rejected by all five universities to which he applied after an English teacher cast doubt on his intellectual discipline, the self-confessed “chatterbox” at school did well enough in his A-levels to gain entry to Manchester University to study law. He went on to spend almost 15 years at the firm Olswang, where he was appointed CEO at the age of 28, and six years at Gerald Ronson’s property company, Heron International.
Guggenheim Partners appointed Goldstein as their inaugural head of European real estate and director investments in 2013 before, with Boehly and Henry Silverman, he co-founded Cain International a year later. The London-based firm — backed by a minority investment from Guggenheim Capital, the parent company of Guggenheim Partners — invests in real estate debt, equity and experimental businesses and, as of March 31, 2022, managed $14.5 billion in assets.
Cain International were mooted as potential bidders for Tottenham Hotspur in the autumn of 2014 — the club always insisted they were not for sale — with Goldstein a lifelong Spurs fan and well known to the board. He has one of Harry Kane’s left boots, signed by the striker, displayed in his office after acquiring it at a charity auction.
Given his background in property, the suggestion has been that Goldstein, a former chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, will concentrate his efforts at Chelsea on the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge.
Lord Daniel Finkelstein OBE
The former adviser to John Major and William Hague, and current columnist for The Times, is a self-confessed Diet Coke addict (the boardroom at Stamford Bridge is sure to be well-stocked) and Chelsea obsessive.
Finkelstein did not come from a footballing family and once described himself as “a north-west London Jew, Tory and think-tank egghead, so hardly in need of extra pieces of identity”. His own sporting participation amounted to once “having been substitute in one under-15 ‘B’ football match which was cancelled at school”, reflecting his pedigree. But he was taken to his first Chelsea game at the age of seven by a friend whose father owned a shop near Stamford Bridge and his loyalties were set in stone that afternoon.
In the years since, he has seen the team he supports labour, oscillating between the top two divisions and flirting at times with financial ruin, then revelled in their new-found status since Abramovich’s takeover in 2003.
I’m so proud to have been named a director of @chelseafc. Serving on the Board of the club I have always loved is a privilege I take very seriously. I will read & reflect on fan messages, but it will often not be possible to indicate assent or dissent. https://t.co/l8wkqfdp1U pic.twitter.com/sxFUHBcKkC
— Daniel Finkelstein (@Dannythefink) June 22, 2022
Finkelstein’s political career has taken him from the Social Democratic Party, into think-tanks and, from 1995, a stint as head of research at Conservative Central Office under Major, the then-prime minister. He subsequently worked as an adviser to Hague, the leader of the opposition following the general election of 1997. He was appointed to the House of Lords, sitting as a Conservative as Baron Finkelstein of Pinner, in 2013. Journalistically, he has written for The Jewish Chronicle and joined The Times in 2001, working his way up to leader writer, associate editor and weekly columnist. His Chelsea allegiance has cropped up relatively regularly in his copy over the years.
He has used that platform to celebrate the successes of the Abramovich team — “I don’t care where Chelsea’s money comes from as long as there is plenty of it” — and question UEFA’s imposition of financial fair play regulations on the sport, a policy he argued would actually ensure the gulf between the established order and aspirant clubs gaped larger. “More important still, the rules might impede Chelsea, which I am against, whatever the other arguments,” he concluded. He considers his appointment to the board “a privilege”.
The rock and roll obsessive from Chicago, known in the music industry simply as “BC”, moved to London in the 1970s and established her reputation interviewing bands from the Eagles to the Rolling Stones for publications like NME, Rolling Stone, Sounds and Crawdaddy.
Her love of football only really developed while she worked on an authorised biography of Keith Richards, whom she had interviewed early in her career and befriended. The Stones’ guitarist and songwriter was living in the US but let her housesit Redlands, his moated property on the Sussex coast outside West Wittering, while she trawled through hours of transcription.
Largely out of boredom, she took to watching Midweek Sports Special on ITV and enjoyed the football highlights on offer. Once she returned home to Sloane Street, not far from Stamford Bridge, she adopted Chelsea as her team and, from 1981, has been a season ticket holder in the East Stand.
While at the Warner Music label, where she spent 13 years as head of press, she helped co-ordinate the club’s FA Cup final song “Blue Day” in 1997 with Suggs, the lead singer of the ska band Madness. Chelsea beat Middlesbrough at Wembley and “BC”, along with Suggs, was invited by Dennis Wise to attend the post-match celebrations with the squad at the Waldorf hotel. She still counts the likes of Pat Nevin and Graeme Le Saux as friends and once attempted to persuade Madonna — whose early career she had championed at Warner — that her son, Rocco, should support Chelsea. Apparently the interest was not reciprocated.
Charone cofounded MBC PR with Moira Bellas over 20 years ago, with the firm counting Rod Stewart, Primal Scream, Depeche Mode, Pearl Jam and Madonna among their clients. Yet, while life in music PR remains hectic, there is always time for Chelsea. She has described her involvement on the board as “very exciting” and has already expressed her admiration for Tuchel, whom she hopes will be in place for the long-term, and Hayes. She accepts her position is to champion fans’ voices and, to that end, has made clear her disapproval of a European Super League.
It remains to be seen whether she swaps season ticket in the East Stand for the boardroom, though one suspects she may stick to what she knows and has long loved.
Pade is the third Clearlake representative on the board. Another to have spent time at Stanford University, where he studied economics, the 38-year-old started his career at Google before a spell at Credit Suisse, and was an investment professional at TowerBrook Capital Partners, where he specialised in leveraged buyouts and distressed debt investments.
As a partner and managing director of Clearlake, he serves on the board of directors of several of their portfolio of companies, including American Construction Source, Diligent and Lytx. His world revolves around numbers these days.
Retreat further back, however, and his priorities had centred more on sport. In his youth in Woodside, California, Pade — whose father, Bill, competed in the javelin for Harvard — was actually a promising tennis player. He excelled at high school and maintained that progress at Stanford, where his coaches, Dick Gould and John Whitlinger, once described him as “a phenomenal talent” with “a tremendous forehand and no real weaknesses in his game”.
He went on to play on the ATP Tour for two years, largely on the doubles circuit, before retiring in 2007 and embarking on a very different career.
(Top photo: Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)