Roman Abramovich: A Look at Chelsea FC's Owner

Martin Li@CFCChronicleContributor IIMay 25, 2012

MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 19:  Club owner Roman Abramovich (R) lifts the trophy in celebration while  Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (C) applauds after their victory in the UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea at the Fussball Arena München on May 19, 2012 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When people talk about "Mr Chelsea", the names often thrown around include John Terry, Frank Lampard and Peter Osgood. The successes of Chelsea Football Club have often been accredited to the players and managers at the time—Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Didier Drogba.

One man behind the scenes who rarely gets mentioned is the owner, Roman Abramovich. People rarely remember him for the positives. Rather, most have the impression of a merciless, ruthless, cold-blooded Russian, who thinks his power and financial wealth can justify sacking the likes of Mourinho and Ancelotti so abruptly.

But the 68th-richest man in the world is someone different. He is a personal man who has never really given an interview. He is a man who has countless yachts and an anti-paparazzi shield on his most famous one, Eclipse. For all his high-profile courtings of managers such as Sven Goran-Eriksson and players like Ashley Cole and for all the news that he creates when he fires the next manager, this is a man who, surprisingly, is incredibly protective of himself and all he knows.

Facing an apparent financial crisis in June 2003, then-owner Ken Bates sold Chelsea for £60 million. Roman  was the new man on board, a man who no-one really knew. His £160m purchase was met with scepticism; some were upset, while others were intrigued. The only word about him was from his PR team (per the BBC): "He is a quiet, self-deprecating man, but he loves the game." With him being just 36 and fresh-faced, the Russian's buy sounded like an incredibly dodgy move.

However, his intentions were evident from the start. First, £80 million of debt was quickly written off; then, another £100 million was invested, landing players like Claude Makélélé, Geremi and Joe Cole. Chelsea finished as runners-up in the Premiership, their best league finish in 49 years.

A new high-profile lineup meant there simply had to be a new star manager. Abramovich's determination to create a new European superpower was highlighted by his bringing in a man who had lifted two Portuguese league titles, a Portuguese Cup, a European Cup and a UEFA Cup with Porto. This new kid on the block came in the form of Jose Mourinho.

A state-of-the-art training base later, Roman was getting on the right side of fans. The desire to create a new superpower were, at last, words backed up with substance.

Jose Mourinho brought with him Chelsea's first league title in 50 years. New players were coming in, almost at will, with the Russian sanctioning a £30-million move for Andriy Shevchenko.

But when there were political struggles, Roman showed Mourinho who the boss was, ousting him and bringing in Avram Grant. It is undoubtedly a mistake which Roman regrets, but in hindsight, had Mourinho not left, Chelsea might not have seen the success of the post-Mourinho eras.

The Israeli brought Chelsea to within a penalty kick of delivering his Holy Grail, but that was not enough, with Roman yet again bringing in a new man to do the deed.

Another world-class name was to enter, with Abramovich determined to make his team European champions. However, Luiz Felipe Scolari—who had won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002—did not appeal to his players. Roman decided yet again that, in Chelsea's interests, a new person should be brought in.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:  Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge on April 9, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Hiddink was interim manager and is probably the only one to leave with his head high and still thought of well by Abramovich, having led the side to an FA Cup trophy in his short tenure.

European Cup-winning boss Carlo Ancelotti was the next man, with a wealth of experience in Europe especially, but after a double-winning season, his time was up when he drew a blank in his second year in west London.

Frustration was starting to kick in, as one can imagine, but Abramovich's passion for Chelsea never ceased. Retrospectively, the chopping and changing might seem rash—and one might say he had been misguided by his closest allies—but this is a man who is more than prepared to spend millions of pounds to do what is right for his club.

Another £50 million of personal fortune was spent on Fernando Torres, smashing a British record for a transfer fee, so Abramovich is well within his rights to ask for a return no less than the pinnacle of club football.

In his reign, Chelsea have won nine major trophies—the UEFA Champions League, the Premier League three times, the FA Cup four times (with 2010 providing the club's first-ever league and FA Cup double) and the League Cup twice. Manchester United are the only English club to have won more honours in the same time.

Eight years on, Roman does not look for one second like he is losing interest. His presence at almost every game Chelsea plays and the visible emotions endured in matches are indicative of his genuine passion for the game, a sign Chelsea supporters take to the heart.

This is a man who lost both parents at age four. Adopted by his uncle, he dropped out of college, but he found his fortune elsewhere, in the oil industry. He has a law degree, but that was not where his interests lay.

Unlike some other owners, he is not a boastful businessman who is in it for a good laugh while nothing to do with his money. This was not an investment. In an exclusive interview, he told the BBC, "It's not about making money. I have much less risky ways of making money than this... I don't want to throw my money away... it's about success and trophies."

Nor is he an owner who does not care about the fans (the Glazers, perhaps). Nor is he an owner who buys a club and then goes back to his homeland, never to be seen again (Venkys, for one). This is a man who cares passionately.

This is a man who has well and truly taken Chelsea to his heart.

And after seeing his passion in the Champions League Final, we can truly say this is not any ordinary businessman—this is a special fan.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.