A spellbound figure sat in the box to view a pulsating Champions League clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford in 2003. He had not been introduced to football before and had been escorted by Graeme Souness, who, he believed was a chauffer. Within ten minutes of the game however, he announced that he wanted to buy a club.
After failed negotiations with Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, he set his sights on another club from London. This club had played through its skin to grab a Champions League spot for the following season but was deep in debt and on the verge of being bankrupt. The deal was sorted in 15 minutes and thus Roman Abrohamovich, the Russian oligarch became the proud owner of Chelsea FC. A decade to this day we take a look at the “Roman era”, which has changed the face of English football.
The Inception: Roman had a dream to make Chelsea one of the powerhouses in England and European football and he showed his intent very early by signing Hernan Crespo, Adrian Mutu, Damien Duff and Claude Makelele to strengthen the squad and compete in the Premier League.
At the end of Roman’s first season, Arsenal were celebrating their “invincible” run to yet another title but there were clear signs that another club from London were on the ascendancy as Chelsea split the perennial title favorites by finishing ahead of Manchester United in second place and making it to the semi-final of the Champions League.
The “Special” Era: Falling short of the title, the Russian tycoon showed streaks of ambition and ruthlessness as he fired Claudio Ranieri to appoint a young manager, who was basking in the glory of winning the Champions League with Porto. Jose Mourinho arrived at Chelsea with pompous interviews and many a promise to complete the revolution that Abramovich had dreamed about.
He had a warchest of many a million to draw in his desired targets like Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben and his trusted Porto favorites Carvalho, Ferreira, Tiago along with the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry already at the club. Surrounding these players, Mourinho built a team that not only won the Premier League but also created a record for the maximum number of points set by a team in a single season which is yet to be broken. This was followed by another league victory the following season but the lack of progress in the Champions League soon irked Roman and led to the disagreement and subsequent exit of “The Special One”.
The Turbulent Era: Chelsea fans were reeling from the shock that their beloved manager had got the sack and this was a sign of things to come. Avram Grant took over mid season and despite getting Chelsea whiskers away from the title, eventually won by Manchester United and reaching the finals of the Champions League for the first time against the same opposition to endure a heartbreaking loss in Moscow, Grant got the chop at the end of the season for not delivering the trophy that was to become “The Holy Grail”.
A brand new season started with Brazillian genius Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had tasted World Cup success with Brazil, at the helm but he too would last no more than half a season. Guus Hiddink took over and ensured there was damage control but Roman’s thirst for the Champions League had not been quenched.
The Carlo Way: Next in line to attempt the task of pleasing Roman was Carlo Ancelotti, the coach who had achieved Champions League glory with AC Milan. His first season in charge was one of the best for Chelsea fans as they pipped Manchester United to the title, scoring a record number of goals in the process and playing the stylish attractive brand of football Roman had always visualised for Chelsea.
They added an F.A Cup to the trophy cabinet as well, making it a successful double for Chelsea. Players like Drogba, Malouda and Anelka shone in attacking roles in the tailor-made 4-3-3 formation. Next season, however, was a different story as Chelsea continued their traditional “November wobble” and were out-of-sight, losing the title to Manchester United and finishing third in the table behind Liverpool. This was followed by one of the darkest days in the Roman era as Carlo was sacked in the tunnel after the last home game of the season and bade his goodbyes.
The “Interim” Era: Chelsea fans were seething at the way one of their favorite managers was sacked when Andre Villas Boas took the familiar route from Porto to Chelsea to be the next one on the hot-seat. Needless to say, Roman pulled the trigger on him and replaced him with assistant “interim” coach Roberto Di Matteo. A former player and fan favorite, against all the odds the Italian led Chelsea to occupy the largest hole in their trophy cabinet – The Champions League.
This was greeted with joy but the off-season showed that Roberto Di Matteo would eventually head down the same road as many had. He did get a contract extension but that was not enough to save his job come this October when he too joined the long list of casualties. An unpopular appointment followed suit and so stayed the “interim” tag. Having safely got Chelsea to an acceptable third place and completed the UEFA Trophy cabinet with the Europa League, Rafael Benitez’s services were terminated as Chelsea looked forward.
The “Happy” Era: A decade after Roman Abramovich took over, Chelsea have undergone a complete cycle and are back where they started. Jose Mourinho returned to the club seven years after his departure and his humility showed from his travels and experiences in Spain and he proclaimed that he was “The Happy One”. This sentiment was echoed by the Chelsea faithful who never forgot the man who put Chelsea on the English and European map. Only a few faces remain from his initial spell but a plethora of young talent and world-class players such as Juan Mata and Eden Hazard would no doubt make Chelsea a force to be reckoned with.
Here’s congratulating Roman Abramovich on a successful decade and if recent quotes are to be believed, he could stay around for a decade more.