Roman Abramovich’s decision to sell Chelsea has sent shockwaves throughout English football but he leaves with the club firmly established as one of the giants of the European game.
The billionaire, alleged to have close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has not so far been named on a growing British sanctions list targeting Russian banks, businesses and pro-Kremlin tycoons following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But the 55-year-old has decided that selling Chelsea is in the best interests of the club, fans and employees.
The Chelsea Abramovich will leave are dramatically different from the club he bought in 2003 for just £140 million ($187 million) at a time when Manchester United and Arsenal were the dominant forces in the Premier League.
The club were transformed from also-rans teetering on the brink of a financial crisis into one of the richest in the Premier League thanks to the deep pockets of the Russian, who routinely bankrolled blockbuster transfers.
He has been rewarded with a staggering 19 major trophies in his 19-year reign—changing the face of English and European football.
Abramovich’s arrival at Stamford Bridge also set a trend for a wave of foreign investment in the Premier League
Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are all American-owned, Manchester City have won five of the past 10 titles thanks to Abu Dhabi backing, while Newcastle are now bankrolled by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
One of Abramovich’s early masterstrokes was to bring in Jose Mourinho as manager to replace Claudio Ranieri in 2004.
The self-styled “Special One”, fresh from Champions League success with Porto, delivered a first league championship since 1955 in his first season and repeated the feat in 2006.
The Portuguese departed in 2007 but despite frequent managerial changes the trophies continued to flood in as the Blues belied the idea that stability breeds success.
A total of 13 men have managed the club over the past 19 years, with Mourinho and Guus Hiddink doing so on two occasions.
The unheralded Roberto Di Matteo succeeded where big-name managers Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti failed by winning the club’s first Champions League with an ageing team in 2012.
Even then the Italian was sacked three months into the following season.
Mourinho’s two spells account for half of Chelsea’s six league titles in their history, yet Abramovich twice decided to part ways with the Portuguese.
The same fate befell the club’s all-time top goalscorer, Frank Lampard, last year but the Russian’s ruthless approach continued to reap the rewards.
Within four months of succeeding Lampard, Thomas Tuchel was celebrating the club’s second Champions League title on the field with Abramovich in Porto last year.
Tuchel’s admission that it was the first time the pair had met underlined the hands-off approach Abramovich took to the day-to-day running of the club.
Director Marina Granovskaia, a close ally of the owner, took the lead on the recruitment of players and managers.
But the Russian’s wealth, estimated by Forbes on Wednesday at $12.4 billion, underpinned two decades of almost unbroken success.
Abramovich has said he will not call in the £1.5 billion worth of loans owed to him by the club and will donate all net proceeds from the sale of Chelsea to the victims of the war in Ukraine.
The decision not to ask for loans to be repaid should boost interest in a club now established among European football’s elite.
But it will take deep pockets to come anywhere close to replicating the success to which Chelsea fans have become accustomed.
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