Could Roman Abramovich Be Readying Himself to Leave Self-Sustaining Chelsea?
As he enters his 10th year as owner of Chelsea Football Club, it seems that although he still holds an active interest in the West London outfit, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich may be looking to take a backseat with regard to running the whole fiasco surrounding last year's European champions.
And while many predict it would be the beginning of a financial meltdown for Chelsea, there is the possibility that it could have the opposite effect.
When Abramovich made his £140 million move to take 100-percent control over Chelsea back in July 2003, the media were flabbergasted by the whole situation.
Why? Mainly because foreign ownership, although it did exist in some quarters of English football, was fairly rare, at a time when football was only half as commercialized as it is today. But also, the general speed with which the deal was concluded—within a week—was remarkable.
The club desperately needed a cash injection to survive; with over £98 million of debt, former owner Ken Bates seemed to hint that if they had not finished in fourth position, thereby qualifying for the Champions League, the Blues just may have gone into administration.
It was clear to see that the club were on their last leg and needed investment. There were payments owing from the construction of Chelsea Village, one of Bates' most ambitious plans to turn Stamford Bridge into more of a resort rather than just a stadium. Of course, it was an expensive mistake, and the club needed to raise funds.
Luckily for the Blues, Abramovich had seen English football on television and saw the potential in Chelsea not only for a healthy investment, but also a successful project.
What's more, there are unconfirmed rumors which suggested the wealthy billionaire wanted to buy Tottenham Hotspur instead. It is unlikely, when you consider Chelsea did have European football for that season, and Spurs did not.
Still, after ploughing the best part of £1.5 billion of his own wealth into the club, Abramovich has certainly seen results from his investment—and to be fair to the 46-year-old, his project has been a resounding success.
Of course, he has had a long list of managerial appointments since his arrival. When Rafa Benitez, the current "interim manager" at the club, leaves at the end of the season in May, that number will rise to 10 managers in as many years, once a new coach is appointed.
Abramovich has received criticism for the way he has handled the managers at the club, and while the brutality of the decisions have perhaps been unnecessary, the changes have almost always benefited the club.
First of all, he controversially axed former Valencia manager Claudio Ranieri, the man who had guided Chelsea to second place in the Premier League, only finishing runners-up to the Arsenal side nicknamed the "Invincibles" due to their incredible unbeaten season in the 2003-04 campaign.
He replaced Ranieri with Porto's Jose Mourinho, a young and confident coach who had just won the Champions League. And the appointment was an incredible success, with the Portuguese tactician masterminding a return of six trophies in his three years in charge, including the club's first Premier League title since 1955.
He indicated that he made an error in judgment in hiring Andre Villas-Boas, a young Portuguese manager who had again experienced success with Porto, when he sacked the 34-year-old just six months into his reign. His temporary replacement, club legend Roberto Di Matteo, went on to secure the club's greatest achievement: the Champions League and FA Cup double.
But the appointment of Benitez has been met with fierce opposition from the vast majority of Chelsea fans, highlighting that despite all that Abramovich has done for the club, the fans still are failing to respect his decisions.
In hindsight, perhaps a statement from the Russian himself would go some way towards explaining his reasons for putting his faith in a coach despised in West London, but that has not arrived, and probably never will. As owner of the football club, Abramovich has a right to make the decisions without having to justify them.
And as much as it sounds like a dictatorship, it is his club. If the fans want Abramovich to stick around, they need to ensure they do not alienate him.
His executive appointments, mainly that of former CEO Peter Kenyon, have been instrumental in securing lucrative sponsorship deals which have inevitably seen revenue skyrocket in recent years. Long-term kit deals with Adidas and Samsung have propelled Chelsea into other money-spinning deals which have also resulted in a worldwide appeal, with fans gathering from Asia and USA to support the Blues.
Consequently, it means that should he decide to withdraw his interests from the club and either sell up or simply convert his equity into shares, the club can run itself based on its revenue.
In addition to this, as well as growing financially, big-money signings have increased their appeal to other players of joining the team. Putting this into perspective, would the likes of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata have arrived at Chelsea if they were not regularly competing for honors? Even the hardcore Blues fans will admit it is unlikely.
Maybe that has been his plan from day one, in a sense that he can view the club as something he changed but no longer has the pressure of dealing with on a daily basis.
From the recent whispers around the club, Abramovich is said to be excited about the progress the club have made on the whole; the club's Under-19 team were unfortunate to lose in the NextGen Series Final against Aston Villa, the senior team are still in the hunt for two trophies and his recent signings, Hazard and Oscar, are both reveling in the limelight.
He may not be ready to leave just yet, but be warned: One day the time will come for Roman Abramovich and Chelsea to part ways, and the club will need to be ready.
Chelsea is an attractive global brand, both on a commercial and sporting scale, and that's largely down to Abramovich.
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