The Playing Field

I sack, therefore I am

This devil doesn't wear Prada! The trademark stubble, digital watch and disheveled looks...all these cheat you from believing that he is the 53rd richest person on the planet. So when Roman Arkadyevich Abromovich - a 36-year-old Russian tycoon purchased a debt-ridden Chelsea in 2003 - he didn't fit the picture quite well. It was not easy to associate a young, unshaven Russian billionaire in the stands, with the game of football. But then, with money, you can even buy faith. His fat pocket paid off the club's debts, brought star players to Stamford Bridge, and took Chelsea to the heights within a matter of year.


The 'misfit' soon turned into a 'messiah' with the Blues winning their first English Premiere League title in 50 years with the most number wins (29) by conceding the fewest goals (15) in a season. Abromovich didn't have to wait too long to silence his critics; just as his phenomenal rise to glory. After all, patience is not a term you can associate with him. This man hardly waits.

ABROMOVICH'S ONE MAN REVOLUTION

It was the beginning of a new era at Stamford Bridge when this 'one man Roman empire' rewrote the club's history with his money. The charismatic, yet intriguing Godfather of Chelsea was determined to stay.

A decade back, TIME magazine had run a profile on Roman Abramovich, narrating how he, as a young governor, metamorphosised a tiny province named Chukotka in Russian Far East by spending millions from his own fortune for its revival. There is an interesting description about Roman's encounter with an inhabitant there:

Olga nearly weeps as she bows to the Governor during a recent visit. "Thank you for everything you have done for us," she gushes. Abramovich, a tall, slightly stooped man with a short, carefully trimmed beard, accepts her thanks with a peculiar mix of bashfulness and indifference. He flashes a shy smile, but seems to be looking through the woman rather than at her.


Abromovich always seems to be looking through something. Like Chukotka, Chelsea too witnessed phenomenal rise ever since his takeover the club. They have won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups, and one Champions League title.


Abramovich spent 600 million pounds for Chelsea in his first five years as owner. The club witnessed some of the richest transfers during the Russian oligarch's reign with Fernando Torres topping the list with £50 Million from Liverpool.

For purists, his 9-year reign at Stamford Bridge can be regarded as nothing but 'sacrilegious', although his dilettantish efforts definitely 'brought' success to his club. Once Chelsea started tasting victory, even doubts pertaining to the Russian's love for football took a backseat, and it rarely surfaced unless and until he got perturbed by the occasional 'sacking-itch'.

When Andre Villas-Boas was shown the doors in March after the club's disastrous performance, the media blamed petulant Abromovich's impatience and lack of discretion. Even then, Abromovich had the last laugh with Chelsea's FA Cup and Champions League triumph under their new coach Roberto Di Matteo.

The firing of Di Matteo too was almost obvious after his team's poor performances following their ill-fated match against Manchester United on October 28th. The disgraceful defeat of the reigning Champions to Juventus served as the final nail on Di Matteo's coffin. Once again, Roman was quick to make his move.  It's not that we didn't see it coming.
 
The pressure is now on Rafael Benitez, who has been appointed the new interim manager of Chelsea until the end of the season. Benitez, who had been shown the door twice in recent past - by Liverpool and Inter Milan, is well aware of what could be awaiting him at Stamford Bridge if he fails to rise to Abromovich's expectations.

WHY IS ABROMOVICH WRONG

Abromovich's unpredictable decisions have become easily predictable these days. In his nine years of tenure, Abramovich has '8 heads in his duffel bag'. But money can't buy answers to all the issues Chelsea is facing right now. The club needs stability, not band-aid solutions. Pep Guardiola - the one man whom Abromovich is in pursuit of, is still playing hard to get. The uncertainty looming large over Chelsea makes it a least choice for a 'philosopher coach' like Guardiola to take guard. If Roman wants to lure Guardiola, he should control his ways. 

While the tycoon's hunch could have proved him right over the past, that doesn't make the Russian visionary infallible. Chelsea's rich 'step-father' can buy success; but it takes more than money to win the hearts of fans. For them, the game and their club is a shared life spanning generations. It's unfortunate that their 'lives' rest in the hands of their billionaire owners whims and fancy. If Abromovich loves Chelsea, he try to see the bigger picture and give more room for reason, and not from a businessman's vantage point alone.

"Football is somewhat irrational. Those who are involved in football in their ordinary businesses are very sound businessman. In football sometimes they seem to go mad. We need to bring a bit of rationality back."


Above are the words said by UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino while calling for Financial Fair Play to curb the excessive spending by club owners like Abromovich and Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour.

Couldn't agree more. It's high time to bring some rationality back into the game.

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  • Prem Panicker, Managing Editor, Yahoo! India

    Journalist. Loves reading, writing; hates 'rithmetic.

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