When people talk about “Mr Chelsea”, the names often thrown around are “John Terry”, “Frank Lampard” and “Peter Osgood”. But one man, behind-the-scenes, who rarely gets mentioned is the owner, for the successes of Chelsea Football Club have often been accredited to the players and managers of that time: Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Didier Drogba. People rarely remember Roman Abramovich for the positives; more having the impression of a merciless, ruthless, cold-blooded Russian, who thinks his power and financial wealth can justify sacking the likes of Mourinho and Ancelotti so abruptly.
But the 68th richest man in the world is someone different. He is a personal man, who has never really given an interview. He is a man who has countless yachts and an anti-paparazzi shield on his most famous one, Eclipse. For all his high-profile courtings of managers such as Sven Goran-Erikkson and players like Ashley Cole, for all the news that he creates when he fires the next manager, this is a man who, surprisingly, is incredibly protective of himself and all he knows.
Facing an apparent financial crisis in June 2003, then-owner Ken Bates sold Chelsea for £60 million. Roman Abramovich was the new man on board, a man who no-one really knew. His £160m purchase was met with scepticism; some were upset, others were intrigued. The only word about him was from his PR team: “He is a quiet, self-deprecating man but he loves the game”. 36 and fresh-faced, it sounded an incredibly dodgy move.
However, his intentions were evident from the start. First, £80 million of debt was quickly written off; then, another £100 million was invested, landing players like Claude Makélélé, Geremi and Joe Cole. Chelsea finishing as runners-up in the Premiership, their best league finish for 49 years.
A new high-profile line-up meant there simply had to be a new star manager. His determination to create a new European super-power was highlighted by bringing in a man who had lifted two Portuguese league titles, a Portuguese Cup, a European Cup and a UEFA Cup with Porto. This new kid on the block came in the form of Jose Mourinho.
A state-of-the-art training base later, and Roman was getting on the right side of fans. The desire to create a new super-power were, at least, words backed up with substance.
Jose Mourinho brought with him Chelsea’s first league title for 50 years. New players were coming in, almost at will, with the Russian sanctioning a £30 million move for Andriy Shevchenko.
But when there were political struggles, Roman showed Mourinho who the boss was, ousting him, and bringing in Avram Grant. It is undoubtedly a mistake which Roman regrets, but in hindsight, had Mourinho not left, Chelsea might not have seen the success of the pre-Mourinho eras.
The Israeli brought Chelsea to within a penalty kick of delivering his Holy Grail, but that was not enough, with Roman yet again bringing in a new man to do the deed.
Another world-class name was to enter, with Abramovich determined to make his team European champions. However, Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, did not appeal to his players, with Roman deciding yet again that, in Chelsea’s interests, a new person should be brought in.
Hiddink was interim manager and is probably the only one to leave with his head high and still thought of well by Abramovich, having led the side to an FA Cup trophy in his short tenure.
European Cup-winning boss, Carlo Ancelotti, was the next man, with a wealth of experience in Europe especially, but after a double-winning season, his time was up when he drew blank in his second year in west London.
Frustration was starting to kick in, as one can imagine, but the passion for Chelsea never ceased. Retrospectively, the chopping and changing might seem rash – and one might say he had been misguided by his closest allies – but this is a man who is more than prepared to spend millions of pounds to do what is right for his club.
Another £50 million of personal fortune was spent on Fernando Torres, smashing a British record transfer fee, so he is well within his right to ask for a return, no greater than the pinnacle of club football.
In his reign, Chelsea have won nine major trophies – the UEFA Champions League, the Premier League three times, the FA Cup four times (with 2010 providing the club’s first ever league and FA Cup double) and the League Cup twice. Manchester United are the only English club to have won more honours in the same time.
Eight years on, Roman does not look for one second like he is losing interest. His presence at almost every game Chelsea plays, and the visible emotions endured in matches, are indicative of his genuine passion for the game, a sign Chelsea supporters take to the heart.
This is a man who lost both parents at four. Adopted by his uncle, he dropped out of college, but he found his fortune elsewhere, in the oil industry. He has a law degree, but that was not where his interests lay.
Unlike some other owners, he is not a boastful businessman, who is in it for a good laugh with nothing to do with their money. This was not an investment: “It’s not about making money. I have much less risky ways of making money than this… I don’t want to throw my money away… it’s about success and trophies.”
Nor is he an owner who does not care about the fans (The Glazers, perhaps). Nor is he an owner who buys a club and then goes back to his homeland, never to be seen again (Venkys, for one). This is a man who cares passionately. This is a man who has well and truly taken Chelsea to his heart. And after seeing his passion in the Champions League Final, we can truly say this is not any ordinary businessman, this is a special fan.