The egos were higher, the changes were broader, the morals were looser, and the tickets weren’t cheaper. This is one of my favorite lines from the iconic novel and movie The Great Gatsby, and according to many it is a description that fits Chelsea Football Club under Roman Abramovich.
During the now legendary 4-3 clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford during the 2002-03 Champions League, a Russian billionaire fell in love with football. Roman Abramovich decided he wanted a football club. Chelsea were neck-deep in debt and on the brink of collapse. It was a convenient marriage made in football heaven and the ensuing years have, to a very large extent, changed world football.
After Chelsea strengthened immediately after the arrival of their Russian owner, other teams in England had to purchase similar quality to keep up and they did so. Manchester United and Liverpool managed to do it, while Arsenal did not. The results are obvious for all to see. Arsenal stand trophy-less after eight years.
Liverpool, however mediocre they are now, won a Champions League, two league cups and an FA cup. United, of course, continued their dominance even after the Abramovich era but they needed substantial injections of cash to the bolster the squad.
Splashing more money meant better footballers joining English clubs, and as a result, there was a distinct improvement in the quality of the Premier League and its status as the most popular league in the world. By that logic, the improvement in standards of the English Premier League can be credited to Roman’s spending spree.
Yet when I find football pundits accusing Abramovich of ‘destroying’ the morals of the game, their arguments sound full of hypocrisy. The way I see it, footballers are humans at the end of the day and want to win trophies while earning good money. If a club provides them with the option, I fail to see an issue with that.
Another accusation levelled at Abramovich’s Chelsea is that they are remarkably impatient with managers. The average period a manager stays at Stamford Bridge is 300 days. This means that while Abramovich wants success, he doesn’t want to wait for it. Bigwigs like Mourinho, Scolari and Ancelotti have been showed the exit door with alarming alacrity.
His critics have often said that a similar model has been replicated by other clubs as well. The only club to have sacked managers at a rate even close to Chelsea are Real Madrid and the demands for success are a common factor between both clubs. And I do not see why anyone else should have a problem at what he does with his managers. It is after all his own money he spends and if he does not feel satisfied, he is completely within his rights to take necessary step, however ruthless they might seem.
He has always demanded success in the right way. He wants to see his teams playing beautiful football and if he feels that changing managers is the way to do it, then he is fully entitled to his view.
But never has the man’s focus been on building a successful team. He has always spent his energy on creating a successful club. He attends most of the training sessiosn held at their training ground in Cobham and is present for a large number of matches too.
He takes an active interest in the development of youth and apart from building one of the best youth training facilities in the world he takes a keen interest in youth competitions too. The results are obvious. Chelsea have appeared in four of the last six youth FA Cup finals and have exciting players like McEachran, Ake, Chalobah, Bertrand, Kakuta and Bruma to show for his devotion. Although not many of his academy products have broken into the first team, Financial Fair Play will surely change that.
Chelsea have academies all over Britain and indeed all over the world. They are involved in a host of activities with the UN and are torch-bearers for the ‘Right to Play’ initiative. Through players like Didier Drogba and John Obi Mikel, the west-London club have also made significant contributions to development in Africa and it has to be said that in terms of working for the society, Chelsea has few peers in world football.
Chelsea fans all over the world recognize the effort of their owner, and whether it be after Mourinho was dismissed or when Benitez was appointed, they never chanted against their owner.
A recluse by nature, Abramovich has decade shown that money can indeed buy success. His lavish spending gave Chelsea three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and one each of the Champions League and the Europa league.
Abramovich and perhaps Chelsea will never be given credit for all the good they have done for the game. No one remembers their goodwill initiatives. Everything they have done is seen in a negative light. Chelsea will continue to be hated as a rich man’s club and Chelsea fans will forever be called plastic fans. But as a friend once told me, their fans do not care about the naysayers as long as success keeps flowing. And I suspect neither does their owner.