- May 8, 2002
- Reaction score
For Roman Abramovich, a second Champions League victory means everything. This is why he bought Chelsea, this is why he has, over the years, pumped more than £1.5billion of his personal wealth into the club. This is the culmination of his stewardship, to see his club recognised as the most esteemed footballing institution in Europe. “I think the reason why he loves football after all of these years is that it’s not a formula,” Eugene Tenenbaum, his fellow Russian director at Chelsea said recently. “It’s not an algorithm. He finds it exhilarating because you can’t control it.” Though to characterise Chelsea as simply the plaything of a super-rich owner looking to bolster his ego is largely to underplay why Abramovich not only bought the club in the first place but remains in control 17 years on. “There is something about personal status, of course,” says Professor Simon Chadwick, director of the Centre for the Eurasian Sports Industry at Lyon Business School in France, of the billionaire’s motives. “But what Chelsea has become over the years is probably the most significant informal networking tool the Russians have in the west.” It is remarkable to recall that when Abramovich took control at Stamford Bridge in 2004, only two clubs in the Premier League were not owned by British citizens. And one of those, Fulham, was the property of Mohammed Al Fayed who had largely made his fortune in England. The speed with which Abramovich’s game-changing investment achieved dividends (Chelsea were champions of England a year after he took control) opened the eyes of the international super-rich to the possible value being involved in the game here. He was the pioneer. Unlike some of those who followed him, Abramovich, however, was never remotely interested in using his purchase as a platform for self-aggrandisement. He has scarcely done an interview, never addressed the media, never sought to use it as a vehicle to buff up his image. Nor has he ever let us know his motives. And, as he remained a distant figure, viewed only through a long lens in his box at Stamford Bridge (and latterly, since he did not apply for a UK working visa and has stayed out of the country, not even that), so the theories accumulated as to his purpose. The theory that he first bought Chelsea as a protection against the Russian state has been oft-stated but never substantiated, although the one thing no-one would argue with is the fact that Abramovich has clearly been left to run the club without any overt political interference from Moscow.