Fan’s view: Abramovich was resented for upsetting football’s cosy world | Chelsea

So in the end the Roman empire at Chelsea has lasted nearly 19 years – a lot longer than many thought when he bought the club in summer 2003 but, until recent cataclysmic geopolitical events, less than I expected given his clear love of the club and continued on-field success.

Many seem to forget that in the six years before Roman Abramovich bought the club Chelsea won two FA Cups, a League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, so were hardly the mess some portray. What he did do was quickly take Chelsea to the rarefied next step, allowing world-class managers (such as José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte) and players to join, ushering in a trophy-laden two decades any new owner will find it very hard to replicate. He became a very effective disruptor, upsetting the cozy world at the top of English and European football, and was clearly resented because of this.

Two Champions Leagues. Two Europa Leagues. Five Premier League titles. Myriad domestic cups. So many memories for me. Watching us win the league at Bolton and West Brom. Being in Munich, Amsterdam, Baku and Porto to see European trophies being lifted. Watching world-class overseas signings such as Arjen Robben, Claude Makélélé, Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Eden Hazard and Thiago Silva wear a Chelsea shirt. A quality of player and a selection of trophies and memories unthinkable to those of us watching the side in the Division Two dog days of 1979-83.

Watching world-class overseas signings such as Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben, here celebrating a goal in 2005, has been a treat for Chelsea fans.
Watching world-class overseas signings such as Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben, here celebrating a goal in 2005, has been a treat for Chelsea fans. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The unsentimental and ruthless firing of managers was sometimes uncomfortable for many supporters but it is hard to argue, in retrospect, that those decisions were not justified, with the possible exception of Ancelotti. The sacking of Frank Lampard was described by many but the appointment of Thomas Tuchel was a masterstroke, leading to Champions League glory months later.

Abramovich was very much in the background, very rarely giving interviews and content to let his executives run the club on a day-to-day basis, though clearly he intervened on the major strategic issues. Those who thought he would get bored or use the club as a public plaything were proved wrong. My view is that he genuinely loves the club but that he has done the right thing, and indeed the only plausible course of action given current circumstances, by signaling his clear intention to sell. I have no idea whether he has close links to the Putin regime – he says he does not – but his statement, his gesture in writing off the massive loans to the club and the commitment to using proceeds of the sale “for the benefit of all of the war in Ukraine” to send me a pretty strong message.

His legacy, apart from the wonderful memories, includes two world-class managers (Tuchel and Emma Hayes), a bunch of world-class players in the men’s and women’s teams, and a superbly run academy producing high-quality stars of the future on a regular basis. My reading is that the vast majority of supporters appreciate all he has done for the club and are hugely grateful for the 19 years of unparalleled (in Chelsea terms) success.

In terms of the future there has to be some trepidation among supporters. The thought of owners taking over and piling debt on to the club in the style of the Glazers or Hicks and Gillett is not a happy one. Will a new regime want Tuchel? Will he want to hang around? Creating a fully functioning new hierarchy, potentially from scratch, will be far from easy, as other clubs have found.

The club tried, and spectacularly failed, to buy back Chelsea Pitch Owners shares in 2011. If a new owner tries again, they can look forward to another battle with supporters. Shelved plans to build a 60,000 super-stadium may presumably be revived but, given that would require moving away from Stamford Bridge for three to four years during construction, that would inevitably be a fraught process.

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The enormous goodwill Abramovich has built up with the Chelsea supporter base since 2003 will need to be earned by new owners, and that will certainly not be as easy as the Amanda Staveley brigade found it at Newcastle. Abramovich’s investment turned Chelsea into a genuinely world-class club, as evidenced by the recent World Club Cup success. Whoever takes over will have a really tough job to consolidate and build on that.

Tim Rolls first watched Chelsea in 1967 and is a contributor to cfcuk fanzine.

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