The bloody conflict in Ukraine and international outrage over Russia’s invasion have put the spotlight back on Abramovich and his Chelsea property.
It’s a goal that has shed light on the jarring friction between sport and politics: Abramovich, the dream-fulfilling football owner – adored by much of Chelsea fans – versus Abramovich, the Russian oligarch.
Within days of the start of the war, as the West reacted by imposing sanctions on Russia and its oligarchs, Abramovich’s assets – including Chelsea – looked increasingly vulnerable to a more punitive financial environment and he soon announced his intention to sell the club.
“Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?” says Bryant.
Abramovich’s rep did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the oligarch’s punishment.
In the 19 years under Abramovich, the club collected 21 major trophies, according to Chelsea. After winning the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi last month, Chelsea have officially won a major trophy at the disposal of the club.
“Thank you Mr Abramovich”
It was gratitude for that golden age that sustained a wave of adulation for the oligarch when his impending sale of the club was announced, among fans as well as former players.
A statement from the Chelsea Supporters Trust (CST) board summed up the wider outpouring of sentiment among the club’s fans on social media, thanking Abramovich for his “affection, passion and dedication” over the course of a tenure that brought “unprecedented success”.
According to Richard Weekes, who is one of the founders of the Chelsea supporters group ‘We Are The Shed’, the ‘Roman Empire’ has helped make fans’ wildest dreams come true.
“The last 20 years have allowed Chelsea fans to live their best life,” Weekes told CNN before Abramovich was sanctioned.
“Traveling around the world to win and celebrate football’s greatest prizes, you simply can’t ask for more and, for that reason, Roman will forever have a place in the hearts of every Chelsea supporter.
“The end of the ‘Roman Empire’ with Chelsea as ‘World Champions’ couldn’t be a more fitting conclusion to this chapter in our history.”
While the past 19 years have been filled with golden memories and trophy after trophy, the days and months ahead look more uncertain.
In such an uproar, the CST called for the voice of the supporters to be heard.
“CST implores the government to conduct a swift process to minimize uncertainty over Chelsea’s future, for supporters and supporters to receive a share of the gold as part of a sale of the club.”
The sanctions also prevent the sale of the club, pending the issuance of a special license.
In his initial statement posted on the club’s website before he was sanctioned, Abramovich said the net proceeds from the sale would be donated to a foundation set up “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”.
This statement was obviously vague as to who a particular victim might be; Abramovich’s critics have pointed out that the wording could also allow his new foundation to support the families of Russian soldiers.
“Roman Abramovich is very sensitive to what is happening right now,” Mikhail Khordokovsky, an exiled oligarch and Putin critic, told CNN ahead of the recent sanctions announcement.
“I don’t have any information, but I can’t imagine that he made a decision without consulting Putin first.
“Anyway, that means he has a breath of burnt air. What he smells is the fire burning under President Putin,” Khodorkovsky said, referring to plans to Abramovich to sell Chelsea.
The administration was required to name the companies and individuals and consider sanctioning them under legislation aimed at punishing Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as its human rights violations. , the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing military operations in eastern Ukraine. .
The list, which included Abramovich, reads as if the United States had “just rewritten the Kremlin phone book,” Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev said in a Facebook post at the time.
But if Abramovich’s current wealth and apparent security in Russia reflect an affinity with Putin, that may be what put him at risk with the British government.
A nervous future
While Weekes admitted that the new owner’s status as an oligarch played on his mind in 2003, he added that fans would have had little power to reverse the takeover, no matter how they felt.
“Chelsea fans didn’t choose to be bought off,” said Weekes, “it’s unlikely a pushback would have changed the decision at the time if we had stopped to think about the morality behind it.
“People today are more willing to dig a little deeper, to understand right from wrong and, when it comes to a football club, have a desire to know that who their team represents matches their ideologies and their beliefs. That’s a good thing.
“Only time will tell if our feeling towards his character will change but, for now, there’s no denying the happiness he has brought Chelsea supporters during his time here and for that we are grateful to him.”
This schism between appreciation and criticism was evident in Chelsea’s league matches at Burnley on March 5 and Norwich City on March 10.
The chants drew rebuke from Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel after the game.
“If we show solidarity, we show solidarity and we have to do it together. We take the knee together, if an important person from other clubs or from our club sadly dies, we show a minute of respect,” he said. Tuchel told reporters after the game. , which Chelsea won 4-0.
“It’s not the time to give other messages, it’s a time to show respect. We do it because that’s who we are as a club too, we show respect as a club. We need our fans to commit to this minute of applause right now.
“We are doing it for Ukraine, there is no second opinion on the situation there. They have our thoughts and our support, and we have to stay united as a club.”
Beyond this mix of feelings among fans, there is an equally strong sense of anxiety. Rumors of potential buyers continue to abound, but it remains to be seen when the club’s future will be clarified.
Who will be the new owner? Will they be able or willing to invest the same funds as Abramovich? Would they try to keep Chelsea away from Stamford Bridge?
After nearly two decades of envisioning nothing but success, these and other questions “swirled” in Weekes’ mind.
“At the end of the day, Roman explicitly stressed that owning Chelsea was never for financial gain, will the new owner go down that way? Unlikely,” Weekes said.
“It’s worrying because, on top of everything, it may be the fans who end up paying the price.”