Roman Abramovich: Not Your Everyday Owner

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIApril 14, 2010

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 21: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich applauds his team ahead of the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on February 21, 2009 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In the football world he is known as “The billionaire Russian oil tycoon who owns Chelsea.” Ok. Seems simple enough. They’re a dime a dozen, right? Can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a billionaire Russian oil tycoon. Oh, yea, he’s also only 43-years-old and self-made. Getting a little more interesting, eh?

Roman Abramovich was born in 1966, and was an orphan by the age of four. He was raised by his Jewish family in the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle.

Abramovich began his business career while still in the Russian Army. He started selling stolen gasoline to the commissioned officers in his unit. After his stint in the Army, and following the wedding to his first wife Olga, Roman took the money given to him and Olga as a wedding present from her parents and invested it, buying and selling everything from perfume to deodorant in the black market. He started to make a small fortune, and then began selling, of all things, plastic ducks.

The ducks eventually led to dolls, the dolls to pig farms, and the pig farms to oil. Oil is where Abramovich went from an extremely successful businessman to, eventually, one of the richest human beings on the planet.

In 2008 Forbes listed Abramovich’s wealth to be the 15th highest in the world. He was worth $23.5 billion. Like many, he has taken a hit recently in the stock market, and Forbes has him currently at number 50 in the world, having lost a few billion.

In addition to his uncanny success at making money, Abramovich has always had a knack of getting in the circles of the movers and shakers in Russia. He had a very close relationship with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, as well as former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It is said Putin and Abramovich are like a father and son.

Abramovich also has a political background. He served as governor of Chukotka, an impoverished region in the far east of Russia, from 2000 to 2008.

Over the years Abramovich has been linked with some not so savory stories and activities. Please note much of the following is alleged.

He had a long time business partnership with Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky claims that Abramovich harassed him with threats and intimidation to cheat him to sell his valuable shares at less than their worth. Berezovsky is now suing Abramovich.

Also, in 2008, The Times , the daily paper in London, reported that Abramovich admitted he was paid billions of dollars for political favors and protection fees to obtain a big share of Russia’s oil and aluminum assets.

Roman was also arrested in a case of stealing a train full of 55 tankers of diesel fuel (apparently he met the train and diverted it under a fake agreement). He cooperated with officials and the charges were later dropped when the oil company was compensated.

He also was involved with other politicians in a loan fraud allegation, and another company in Russia has accused him of illegal share dilution.

There was also the matter of the infamous aluminum wars in Russia, in which Abramovich was believed to have emerged triumphant. One of his rivals in the aluminum wars was believed to have annoyed the Kremlin and was shipped off to prison in Siberia for 10 years. Numerous officials and executives were said to have lost their lives in the gangland feuds.

Abramovich now travels with what is believed to be a personal army of 40, making him one of the most protected businessmen in the world.

But for all the shady things allegedly linked to his past, Abramovich has had some positive things he has done with all that money. When he became governor of Chukotka, it was very impoverished and depressed. Roman dumped millions of his own dollars into the region to bring back the economy. Living standards were improved and schools and housing restored. He received the Order of Honor from the President of Russia for his contributions.

In addition to being a great lover and collector of art, Abramovich also has one of the great collection of personal yachts. It is said he has five yachts that are referred to as his own navy. He also owns private jets, helicopters, and over 60 limousines which are all believed to be bulletproof.

In 2003 Roman Abravomich decided to scratch a longtime itch, so to speak, when he bought the West London football club Chelsea FC. Chelsea, with Abramovich’s bottomless pockets, became an instant contender in English football. And not just England, but all of Europe as well. Chelsea, almost immediately, began challenging for English and European titles.

Although a Champions League title has avoided Abramovich’s Chelsea club (the title he most covets), they have won two Premier League titles and seem poised to win a third this year. They’ve also won two FA Cup titles in the last three years and will be in the final again this year in May.

Many worried Abramovich would eventually tire of this “hobby”, as he so often has moved from one business venture to the next. But now, seven years into his ownership, it seems as if he isn’t going anywhere, which is a good thing for Blues fans. To continually compete with the money Manchester United, Arsenal, and now even Manchester City has with their own billionaire owner, Chelsea will have to keep spending. Roman appears to have weathered the economic downturn without too much devastation (who among us hasn’t loss a few billion?).

Although they’ve denied rumors, Chelsea has been linked with trying to secure the young AC Milan Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato. And if it isn’t Pato, it will be some other young talented striker to add to his already deep team.

Chelsea is led of course by Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, who is having the best season of his great career. Englishman Frank Lampard and Ghana National Michael Essien are steady in the middle. England’s former national captain John Terry anchors the defense, and Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho is as good as any offensive-minded defender in the league. In fact, the depth of Chelsea’s club may be what separates them from the other big clubs in England right now. Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, and certainly Liverpool are just not as deep as Chelsea. In any one game Chelsea may have Nickolas Anelka, Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, and Solomon Kalou riding the bench. No other team, not even United, could field a second starting 11 as strong as the club from West London.

And Abramovich appears to finally have found his man to lead the club in Italian Carlo Ancelotti. Although an earlier Champions League exit than they had hoped for in his first year, Ancelotti appears on the brink of bringing Chelsea two big trophies; the Premier League title and another FA Cup title.

Abramovich can be seen at almost every game sitting calmly in his seat at Stamford Bridge, watching the game he loves and the team that has become his. When they score a goal a boyish smile spreads across his face, and you know that he shares the same love of this game as we all do.

When someone finally makes a movie of this guy’s incredible life, which you know is sure to happen, I’m thinking Russell Crowe or Gerard Butler should get the role. I’m sure they both could pull off the Russian accent.  


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