Uefa 'keeping an eye on' Abramovich's interests

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The Independent Football

The prospect of Rangers being given a Champions' League reprieve, or Roman Abramovich having to choose between Champions' League opponents Chelsea and CSKA Moscow, receded yesterday but Uefa, European football's governing body, are to consider new restrictions on sponsorship following the pairing.

The prospect of Rangers being given a Champions' League reprieve, or Roman Abramovich having to choose between Champions' League opponents Chelsea and CSKA Moscow, receded yesterday but Uefa, European football's governing body, are to consider new restrictions on sponsorship following the pairing.

Chelsea's billionaire owner is a leading shareholder of Sibneft, an oil company which this year agreed a shirt-sponsorship deal with CSKA which, at $54m (£30m), appeared way above the market rate. Abramovich also watched two CSKA matches in the VIP box with their president Yevgeny Giner, a business associate, last season, and personally congratulated the players in Glasgow this week after they edged past Rangers in the Champions' League qualifier.

Uefa regulations stipulate that no one can have a controlling interest in two clubs in the same European competition. If Abramovich was shown to have such an interest in both Chelsea and CSKA Moscow he would either have to sell one, or withdraw one from the Champions' League - a move which could allow Rangers back in.

Canal+, the French television company, took the former option when Paris SG qualified for the same competition as Servette Geneva a few years ago. They sold the Swiss club. However, there are only two weeks before the competition starts, which may be too short to arrange a sale.

Uefa's chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson, said: "They could not both play. I imagine this will not be the case but if it was and one club could not take part then either we'd have a three-team group or perhaps Rangers, who lost to CSKA in the qualifiers, could come into the competition presuming it was CSKA who were pulled out.

"This is unlikely and we do not have much time. However, that is the logical conclusion if there was a problem."

Uefa spokesman William Gaillard added: "We have not noticed anything abnormal yet but we are keeping our eyes open."

The conflict of interests involving Canal+ was picked up in the checks Uefa run at the start of every season. Those checks, which Uefa themselves admit are "superficial", did not identify any problems with Chelsea and CSKA. However, now the clubs are scheduled to play each other (on October 20 in London and November 2 in Moscow), Uefa are conducting a more detailed investigation.

Chelsea insisted there was no conflict of interest. Simon Greenberg, the director of communications, said: "Mr Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea and Sibneft, a company in which he is one of many shareholders, has a shirt sponsorship deal with CSKA Moscow.

"Mr Abramovich has no equity stake nor any direct interest in CSKA Moscow."

Greenberg added that Abramovich had no say in how sponsorship money was spent at CSKA. Olsson responded: "Everyone knows that sponsorship has a major effect on the management of a club and we might well have to introduce new rules on this issue. We are contacting the Russian FA for full details of who exactly owns CSKA Moscow."

Olsson added: "Our licensing laws and our competition rules as well as EU laws prohibit an individual owning two clubs but we shall now look at the sponsorship issue as well."

Uefa have had to tighten regulations after clubs became targets of financial speculators. ENIC the controlling shareholders at Tottenham, previously owned parts of several clubs including Rangers, AEK Athens and clubs in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Chelsea may also be concerned at a Uefa proposal to limit squad sizes to 25 players of which up to eight have to be "home-grown" - though not necessarily native.

If agreed, the new rules will apply from the start of the 2006/7 season though there would be a transitional period.

Of the 32 sides in last season's Champions' League five clubs would have not had enough home-grown players: Arsenal, Chelsea, Celtic, Rangers and Ajax. The plan, an attempt to limit the number of foreign players without infringing EU regulations, yesterday met with a favourable response for Uefa's club forum.

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