Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is selling up. The fans love what he’s done for their club, but should they be considering the bigger picture?
Since Russia’s invasion began, the Premier League has shown solidarity with Ukraine.
There have been banners and displays of support in the stands, flags and messages on the pitch, and minutes of applause.
But at Burnley over the weekend, some Chelsea fans decided to chant the name of their Russian owner – Roman Abramovich – who last week announced that he was selling the club.
“Roman Abramovich! Roman Abramovich! Roman Abramovich! Roman Abramovich!”Chelsea Fan Clips
They were booed by Burnley fans, and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel condemned their actions too.
“We need our fans to commit to this minute of applause in the moment we do it for Ukraine and there is no second opinion about the situation there and that they have our thoughts and our support and we should stand together as a club. It is not the moment for other messages.”Sky Sports News
In his statement, Roman Abramovich said the sale was “in the best interests of the club.”
With the UK government looking to sanction more Russian oligarchs in Britain, it’s no surprise that he’s made this move.
But Chelsea fans still love Roman Abramovich for what he’s done for their club.
Through the late 1990’s, Chelsea had won trophies under Gianluca Vialli, but before that, the club was threatened by several relegations and a financial crisis that almost saw them lose their Stamford Bridge home.
Then, in 2003, owner Ken Bates sold to Roman Abramovich for £140 million.
It may be strange to think of it now, but Chelsea had only made their first appearance in the Champions League in 1998, five years before the Abramovich era began.
They went from signing Quique de Lucas on a free transfer from Espanyol in the 2002/2003 season, to spending £150 million the following year – the first of Abramovich’s ownership.
Hernan Crespo and Claude Makalele arrived from Real Madrid and Juan Sebastian Veron was bought from Manchester United.
Since then, they’ve won both the Premier League and the FA Cup five times, the Europa League twice and the Champions League twice.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Roman Abramovich announced his departure, some Chelsea fans were keen to dismiss any criticism of him for his alleged links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“The poor man is doing the best he can in a difficult situation.”
“He’s a passionate supporter of the club. I’m pro-Abramovich.”
“Then he more or less got out of politics and out of Russia and just asked to be left alone. And that I think applies to a lot of Russians living here and in other places. They’re not involved in this, they shouldn’t be victimised.”Football Joe
It’s estimated that Roman Abromovich has invested around £2.2 billion in Chelsea.
Commercial revenue was said to have grown 366% from the initial takeover in 2003 to the 2018/2019 season.
In football terms, this was a revolution.
But not everyone was so enthusiastic about Chelsea’s smiling – but silent –Russian owner.
There’s no dispute over how much money he’s invested, but little is known about his level of interest in the club beyond the financial, and what his motives are.
The Times journalist Matthew Syed voiced his concerns back in 2013.
He referred to QC Jonathan Sumption’s testimony in a case against oligarch and Russian government official Boris Berezovsky in 2012.
“Essentially the oligarchs did a deal with Boris Yeltzin – who was running for reelection – we will back your campaign, we will give you free advertising, if you sell us the mineral wealth of the Russian people at a knock-down price. Sumption’s admitted this, it is not in dispute, and that’s stolen money if I can use the word, certainly fraudulently got, is what is bankrolling Chelsea, which has paid for the academy, inflated first-team football salaries and you can’t look at this in a purely footballing context.”Sky Sports News
Now, the Abramovich era at Chelsea looks to be over.
“Meanwhile Roman Abramovich is looking to push through the sale of Chelsea. Investment bankers working on the sale are expecting most of the interest to come from the USA. There are already up to ten interested parties…”Sky Sports News
His statement says that his interest in Chelsea has always come from pure passion for the game and for the club.
He says the net proceeds from the sale will be donated to all victims of the war in Ukraine.
We don’t yet know exactly what that means in real terms.
Should we be looking back on his influence on English football with the same rose-tinted spectacles as Chelsea’s fans?
Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.