Eulogy of a Chelsea fan—club owner, friend of Putin’s, to sell club

Photo%3A+Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

By Birk Buchen

For the first time in nearly two decades, Chelsea Football Club will be up for sale, as a result of its owner’s connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The saga started four days ago when Roman Abramovich announced he would give the trustees of his Premier League soccer club “the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC”—a day following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The Russian oligarch has long been suspected of being a close friend of Putin’s. Abramovich, for his part, has denied these claims, and was even asked by Ukraine to negotiate peace talks between the countries. 

There are only two things that would have caused the longtime owner to lose ownership of the club: British retaliation or Russian interference. 

Despite his alleged ties to Putin, Abramovich couldn’t have anticipated Putin’s manic goal to invade a neighboring country. When the news hit that Russia invaded Ukraine, and the British parliament enacted sanctions on Russia, the question quickly became not whether Russian oligarchs in Britain would be sanctioned, but how many of them would be

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer addressed Parliament last Wednesday, asking why the Chelsea owner wasn’t facing sanctions from the U.K. 

“Last week, the prime minister said that Abramovich was facing sanctions,” Starmer said. ” He later corrected the record to say that he isn’t. Well, why on Earth isn’t he?” 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded, saying a published list of those associated with Putin and his regime would come at an unspecified time—adding that a “significant proportion” of those on the list would face economic sanctions. 

So will Abramovich be on that list? It seems he already knows the answer—or he’s smart enough to predict the future and respect for Chelsea’s name by stepping away on his own.

The embattled owner released a statement addressing the speculation in the media surrounding his ownership. 

In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the Club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners,” read the statement.

***

When I saw the news on my phone and read the words that my club was being sold, I couldn’t think about what the club would do next. I don’t think anyone did. Abramovich helped bring Chelsea to a new level, and he wasn’t just any other businessman. He was there, at games, during the celebrations, hugging and thanking the players. 

Hearing that he was to leave, all I could think about was the joy of watching the team celebrating together after the many trophies we won. I recalled the image of captain and defender, Cesar Azpilicueta, hugging Abramovich after lifting the Champions League trophy in 2021. Cherishing those memories was important, regardless of the legacy’s quick end.

I had the pleasure of watching one of Chelsea’s trophy-winning teams play at its home ground in West London, Stamford Bridge. It was a cold day in February in 2017, wet and loud; the energy former manager Antonio Conte provided on the sidelines made the atmosphere tantalizing. I couldn’t have asked for a better English soccer experience. 

The tickets we purchased included an overnight stay and hospitality package at Chelsea’s hotel next door. My family soon discovered the entire hotel and restaurant staff were Russian. Obviously, this was an observation and not an issue, but it opened my eyes to the control Abramovich and his fellow business partners had on the club. 

His command over the club wasn’t necessarily limited to what you heard about players’ wages and transfer fees—it extended into all aspects of making the club bigger, better, and more efficient. It’s safe to say that Abramovich intended his business operations to have one goal: to be the best and foster a winning mentality at the club. And guess what? It worked. 

Chelsea won 3-1 that day and Conte went on to lift the Premier League title later that spring— one of the many trophies won by the club under Abramovich’s ownership. Since purchasing the club for £140 million in 2003, Chelsea has been in what is referred to as the “Abramovich era”—an era in which the Russian billionaire has spent £2 billion, sacked 14 managers, and won 21 trophies.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho as head coach in the summer of 2004 marked a firm shift in direction for the first team. Upon arrival, Mourinho told journalists that no player was safe. With the support of Abramovich and his partners, he sold 10 first team players that summer—going on to sign big names like Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, and Ricardo Carvalho. Mourinho spent more than £70 million, and Abramovich’s ambition matched his own. This owner-manager partnership led the club to its first league title since 1955, breaking records such as most wins in a season, most away wins, most points, and least goals conceded. 

Having won everything there was to offer domestically, Abramovich became hyper-focused on lifting the Champions League. His club would eventually win the prize in 2012, and again in 2021.

So what happens now? After the Russian oligarch put Chelsea up for sale by inviting potential buyers to bid for the club this week, The Telegraph reported that interested parties are expected to bid around £2 billion for the club

Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss is working with American billionaire  Todd Boehly, minority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, on a bid to buy the soccer club. The reports come after the original plan,  an American consortium consisting of three businessmen for a £2.2 billion bid in 2019, was ultimately rejected. 

Abramovich will remain in the hearts of Chelsea fans in the songs we sing. However, he will also be respected for leaving the club on a proper accord in the wake of an unnecessary war caused by the Putin regime. 

From a Chelsea fan, thank you Roman, and farewell.