How Roman Abramovich transformed the Premier League when he bought Chelsea 14 years ago

FOREIGN owners, eh? They come over here, buying our football clubs.

Americans at Liverpool and Man Utd, Thais at Leicester, Italians at Watford, Emiratis at Manchester City; they’re everywhere with their big ideas and even bigger wallets.

 Roman Abramovich lifts the Champions League trophy in 2012

GETTY IMAGES – GETTY: Roman Abramovich lifts the Champions League trophy in 2012

But football fans tend to treat the foreign owner with suspicion, like they have an ulterior motive.

Sometimes, like at Charlton under Roland Duchâtelet or Leeds under Massimo Cellino, they have every right to, but, occasionally, it can be the making of your club.

Take Roman Abramovich. When he bought Chelsea for £140 milllion in the summer of 2003, the Russian oil and gas magnate set about revolutionising a club that hadn’t won the league title for half a century.

 Roman enjoys a lavish lifestyle and has turned Chelsea into a leading club

PA:PRESS ASSOCIATION: Roman enjoys a lavish lifestyle and has turned Chelsea into a leading club

Tellingly, he also predicted what would happen to then English game.

“I think what this could signal is the arrival of overseas sugar daddies,” he said.

“If this is the start of the super-rich invaders it’ll be very, very interesting to see how the fans react to it.”

 Happy clapper! Roman cheers the Blues on to victory

NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS LTD: Happy clapper! Roman cheers the Blues on to victory

Fast forward 14 years and Abramavich’s prophecy has come to pass.

Today, professional football is awash with magnets and moguls, tycoons and oligarchs; an army of billionaires indulging themselves in the world’s most popular sport.

Whether that’s a good things depends on you and your club’s experience of them. Charlton, Sunderland, Aston Villa and Birmingham City fans, for example, might have a few things to say about having foreign owners.

But there can be no denying that Abramovich’s impact at Chelsea not only changed the face of the club but, in many ways, modern day football itself.

Since Abramovich took the reins at Stamford Bridge, it’s proved to be a period of unprecedented success for the Blues with five Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, one Europa League and one famous Champions League triumph.

 Roman, give us a wave. Chelsea owner celebrates 2005 title win

TIMES NEWSPAPERS LTD: Roman, give us a wave. Chelsea owner celebrates 2005 title win

Chuck in a couple of Community Shields and it all amounts to three more trophies than the club had won in their entire 112-year history prior to the Russian’s arrival.

But it’s not Chelsea that have benefitted – it’s English football itself.

Cast your mind back to football in the summer of 2003.

The Premier League title had been won by Manchester United (8 times) and Arsenal (2) for 10 of the 11 seasons it had been in existence.

The only other club to have won it was Blackburn Rovers, another team accused of ‘buying the title’, thanks to the millions injected into the club by the late Jack Walker.

It was a duopoly at best, a monopoly at worst.

Abramovich’s intervention at Chelsea changed all that.

Initially, it was driven by his vast wealth. In his first year as owner, Chelsea’s outlay on players rose from just £500,000 (on the Portuguese midfielder Felipe Oliveria) to £153 million.

A clutch of new players arrived, including Glen Johnson, Geremi, Wayne Bridge, Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron, Adrian Mutu, Alexei Smertin, Hernan Crespo and Claude Makelele – and that was just in the first two months.

But it was his choice of manager that made the real difference.

Out went Claudio Ranieri in the summer of 2004 and in came Jose Mourinho, the young Portuguese manager who had steered Porto to a UEFA Cup and a Champions League win.

The rest, as Chelsea’s groaning trophy cabinet will testify, is history.

Like the Chelsea owner, Mourinho’s arrival also changed the football landscape in England.

In the augural season of the Premier League in 1992/93 there wasn’t a single foreign coach in the division.

Today, they are the norm, not the exception.

Think about it. Would the Premier League now have Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp? Would Antonio Conte be at Chelsea now?

And, beyond that, would we even have all five English teams (all managed by top foreign coaches) on the verge of making the last 16 of the Champions League?

 Roman Abramovich and Antonio Conte with the Premier League trophy in May, 2017

GETTY – CONTRIBUTOR: Roman Abramovich and Antonio Conte with the Premier League trophy in May, 2017

When it comes to managers, Abramovich’s revolving door recruitment policy, though costly, has also shown that it’s not always a bad thing to try someone or something new when it comes to your coach, despite the long-held belief that success only ever comes from stability.

So-called ‘Super Coaches’ have higher standards and greater demands.

They have an army of backroom staff dedicated to finding those marginal gains that make all the difference in professional sport.

And it’s this quest for perfection that’s filtered through in the wake of Abramovich’s takeover at Chelsea.

 Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho meet in happier times at Stamford Bridge

PA:PRESS ASSOCIATION: Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho meet in happier times at Stamford Bridge

Fans may complain about the game losing some of its soul – with some justification – and how the Premier League has been commercialised to within an inch of his life.

But take a look at the league as it is today and you’ll see stadiums and facilities that are not just better, but pretty much full, week in, week out.

The playing surfaces have gone from quagmires to bowling greens; and the players, thanks in no small part to an influx of foreign coaches with new ideas and innovations, are quicker, technically better and significantly more athletic.

Would any of this been possible without Roman Abramovich’s masterplan?

 Roman's masterplan has turned Chelsea into a football powerhouse

AFP: Roman’s masterplan has turned Chelsea into a football powerhouse

Quite possibly.

But has he genuinely made a material difference to football in England?

Undoubtedly.

And to think that he originally wanted to buy Spurs.

 

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