Should Chelsea get ready for life without Roman Abramovich?
Chelsea Football Club boast magnificent worldwide support. The Blues have a humongous fan-base that spans well beyond Great Britain. There’s no debate who the most popular Blues fan is – a certain Russian businessman who has invested his soul and money into the London club. It’s imperative to say that Chelsea’s success in the past decade is heavily linked to Roman Abramovich’s commitment.
When Ken Bates abdicated his ownership of the Stamford Bridge club to Mr. Abramovich in 2003 for around £200 million, some Chelsea fans were rightfully pensive and pessimistic. Bates was seen as the ultimate Chelsea man. An owner who, within 20 years, had taken the club from the brink of a meltdown to a side who had earned qualification to play in the Champions League. Meanwhile, Abramovich was relatively unknown - with his true intentions quite unclear.
The fact that the club’s debt was growing steadily was part of what pushed Bates to sell to Abramovich. The Russian magnate had convinced his British counterpart that he was a Chelsea supporter and was passionate about taking the club to the next level. They fell out a few years later. Abramovich never dropped the torch.
Chelsea's Russian mogul brought, or should we say bought unprecedented success and pedigree. Within a few years, the Blues had become a reference for Premier League big spenders. The lavished lump sums in signing the best players. They signed a manager who had just won the Champions League and he harnessed the stars and won trophies.
In the 15 years since the 51-year-old took over, Chelsea has hauled in a staggering 17 trophies. That includes five Premier League and FA Cup titles; a Champions League and one Europa League crown. Don’t forget the three League Cups, either.
Twice in the Abramovich era, the Blues broke the British transfer record. The massive spending on just players crossed £1.7 billion excluding salaries. Chelsea's cash-rich owner also initiated a mammoth stadium development project worth £500million. That was before the hiccups began.
As widely reported in the news, the stadium development project has since been cancelled – or “put on hold” as the club would term it. Chelsea pointed to the “unfavourable investment climate” as a major obstacle. However, we know of the infuriating delay Abramovich has been enduring in his quest to get his UK tier-1 visa renewed. He was forced to apply for, and get an Israeli visa to enable him to enter the UK but not work, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he, and Chelsea, are wary of making any substantive multi-million-pound investment in England.
To begin with, Chelsea struggled to get the required approval to kick-start Stamford Bridge redevelopment. The process was lengthy and rigorous but Abramovich showed patience. The visa issue is looking like the last straw.
Chelsea claims that things at the club have been business as usual regardless, but we’re yet to see them making any major move in the transfer market. Whereas their Premier League rivals have been active since the season wrapped, the Blues are yet to sort out even the most trivial of issues. One of which is – who’ll be manager next season.
Uncertainty looms. Contract talks with major players like Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard are moving at a snail’s pace or not at all. The 2016 Premier League Champions aren’t looking anything like the transfer-market bulldogs they once were. Abramovic's unhappiness with the business climate in England is like a leaky roof that has dampened the boisterous business activity that should be associated with a Premier League powerhouse.
Another Chelsea fan has shown interest in relieving Abramovich of all the hassles attached with Chelsea. British billionaire, Jim Ratcliffe, has reportedly offered £2 billion to buy the club. The current owner would not relinquish his baby that easily, though.
Chelsea will obviously outlive Abramovich. But the time for a change of ownership might be closer than we think. If the 51-year-old’s problems with the British government lingers, he’ll have no option but to sell.