Abramovich and Chelsea making history

Tuesday 2nd July 2013 20:05

Roman Abramovich: Looking for more success

Roman Abramovich: Looking for more success

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FanZoner John Baines sees nothing wrong with the way in which Roman Abramovich's money has helped Chelsea create history over the last decade.

Where would Chelsea be if Roman Abramovich hadn't bought the club on July 1, 2003?

It's a rhetorical question that's been considered by Chelsea and non-Chelsea fans alike for 10 years now, and one where a definitive answer will forever remain elusive.

Financially the picture looked far from healthy, and had Claudio Ranieri's men not secured Champions League football on the final day of the 2002/03 season, those in the know believe the Blues would have had to sell many of their saleable assets and buckle down for a period of austerity.

Accurate factual evidence about the state of the Blues books is difficult to ascertain, but varying estimates place the level of debt on the club around the £80 million mark, with an unforgiving EuroBond loan making up the majority of it.

But to put that into context, a report conducted last year by the Guardian newspaper into the finances of the 20 clubs competing in the 2011/12 Premier League showed that well over half of them had debts of over £50 million.

Of course the severity of debt is dependent upon which creditors are owed what, and it's no secret that those who wanted repaying were beginning to knock. However Chelsea did achieve Champions League football without a single rouble of a Russian's billions and were pulling in regular gates of around 40,000 over the previous few seasons.

Again, a lack of clarity of the exact numbers means predicting what would have happened was a guessing game, but there's no doubt that what came after that wouldn't have been achievable without one man.

Yet contrary to popular belief, Abramovich didn't just pluck Chelsea from complete obscurity. The Blues had contested European football in seven of the previous nine seasons whilst picking up a a pair of FA Cups, a League Cup, a Cup Winners Cup and a European Super Cup in the six years prior to his arrival.

On top of that there were two more FA Cup finals, a pair of Cup Winner's Cup semi's and qualification for the 1999/2000 Champions League which resulted to a run in the quarter finals. It was an impressive haul, bettered only by Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal over the same period and collectively more than a host of other 'big clubs' combined.

Marquee signings in the form of Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola and Marcel Desailly had long catapulted the Blues into the global footballing mainstream, and aside from being able to purchase the club for a friendly price due to the debt, the foundations were already there for Abramovich to build on a decade of relative success.

The detractors may say that again this 'success' was built on an unsustainable model which eventually led to difficulties - and that to an extent is true - but plenty previously tried and failed to bankroll clubs and nobody won what Chelsea did.

Newcastle were run on Sir John Hall's money, Blackburn briefly peaked with Jack Walker as a benefactor and Tottenham spent just as much to little avail. All of the above outlaid similar amounts to Chelsea over the same period, but could not match their on-field achievements when by and large they were operating with financial parity.

There's also less resentment towards the likes of Fulham and Wigan who were backed through the Football League by wealthy owners. The sums may pale into insignificance compared to Abramovich's spend, but is there much sympathy for those in league football the Cottagers and Latics sped past? No. Would these clubs have reached the Premier League without such backing? Probably not. Difference?

Following Abramovich's takeover, the Blues were given an unrivaled cash injection and duly splashed out on all and sundry in an attempt to elevate themselves to the top of English and European football.

Overall Abramovich has spent close to £800million on 72 different players of varying outcomes over the last ten years, and given what has been spent, Chelsea still aren't at the top of English or European football, and surely those investments should have yielded more than three Premier League titles, one European Cup, a Europa League, four FA Cups and two League Cups.

The tills were also ringing for numerous costs associated to the hiring and firing of six permanent managers and a host of stop gaps, and had Abramovich given any one enough time to make the job his own, who knows how events would have panned out?

But Abramovich's trigger happy nature should also be seen as unique and forward thinking as well as ruthless and often unnecessary. Upon reflection, the appointment of Luis Felipe Scolari was a disaster - so too was that of Andre Villas Boas.

The Russian oligarch's methods may have created constant instability throughout the club, but many of his managerial axing's have gone on to be justified. The 'mutual' departure of Jose Mourinho was unquestionably the toughest decision the Chelsea fans had to live with, but even incumbent Avram Grant was only a home draw with Wigan and a missed John Terry penalty away from being an inspired choice.

After that Guus Hiddink initiated a turnaround from the Scolari debacle, Roberto Di Matteo revived the team to claim the elusive European Cup and it's debatable that Di Matteo would then have achieved what Rafael Benitez did last term.

His actions may be unconventional but Abramovich sets trends rather than follows. Pinning faith in a manager is still viewed as the done thing in this country, but clubs in Spain and Italy have always acted with similar conviction when results are required.

Each and every sacking may have been harsh to some degree, but at least they have an impact, and Abramovich is not afraid to act ruthlessly to get what he wants.

After all, what evidence is there to suggest that keeping hold of managers actually gets the job done? Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are the exception to the rule but the Scot's tenure at Manchester United is unparalleled and Wenger has sat and watched eight trophyless seasons go by without even the merest hint of his job being in danger.

Unlike at Arsenal, Abramovich's win at all costs mentality has also infested itself right throughout the club and it's no surprise that much of what Chelsea have achieved has been under considerable duress. Even when silverware has eluded their grasp, Chelsea have been there or there abouts, in semi's, finals, chasing doggedly in the league until the ghost is up. Ferguson's United aside, no club so regularly demonstrate such durability and desire to win.

So what now? In a roundabout and very expensive way, Chelsea are largely back where they started with Mourinho at the helm and a squad packed with expensively procured top class talent.

The penny seems to have dropped that signing ageing stars for inflated fees and salaries with little resale value is not the way forward, and at present the club's scouting and recruitment policy is the most cerebral it has been during Abramovich's tenure.

Over the past 24 months Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kevin De Bruyne, Oscar, Juan Mata, Victor Moses and Andre Schurrle have all been signed for less than the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andrei Shevchenko.

In the immediate term the Blues are amongst the favourites to be challenging for next year's Premier League and will be an ominous proposition in the Champions League after continental successes in the last two campaigns.

Given what's gone before, can we expect more of the same, or has Abramovich learnt from what's been?

Only time will tell, yet I've no doubts that in another decade, we will once again be talking about another ten years of Abramovich rule - whatever that may entail.

Many non-Chelsea football supporters still hold onto the notion that he may up sticks and walk, taking his wallet with him and leaving the club to fend for themselves. Yet this has been the wish for many a year and as time goes by, that eventuality looks more and more unlikely.

Abramovich has already turned a £700million loan into equity, effectively meaning the club are debt free to him. If he did choose to sell up, he could only command the market value of the club and given its status, there would be no shortage of interested parties.

He has already bankrolled the building of the Cobham training complex and youth academy and sooner or later there will be a resolution to the restrictive stadium capacity issue.

The chances are that Abramovich will again foot the bill for those and if he does, he - and the club - are likely to come in for more criticism for being reliant on an individual.That may be the case, but few Chelsea fans will lose much sleep over the matter. After all, he's not been taking millions of pounds out of the club for personal gain like the Glazer's, or hiked up ticket prices to satisfy the bean counters as has been done at Arsenal.

Financially Abramovich will never make money on his outlay, but thanks to his generosity the club are now amongst the most commercially adept, marketable and recognisable clubs in world football.

The impending FIFA financial fair play rules means that in theory Chelsea need to reach the much sought after 'self-sufficient' tag banded about by Peter Kenyon many moons ago.

A 2011/12 profit of just £1million was a drop in the ocean considering the huge losses which preceded it, but Chelsea now have the fifth highest turnover of any football club in the world with advertising, sponsorship, merchandise and television income constantly increasing and flowing into the coffers.

Chelsea's image and brand is globally massive, it may not always have been that way, but the longer it stays like this, the dark days of the old Division Two and sparse crowds at an inhospitable Stamford Bridge become obsolete.

Few will remember that AC Milan won just one Serie A title in 20 years and were in a similar financial predicament to Chelsea before Silvio Berlusconi came in and re-wrote everything in the mid 80s.

Although not burdened with the same cash issues, Manchester United went 24 years between 1968 and 1992 winning four FA Cups, a League Cup and a Cup Winners Cup, but that's about as relevant as a gas conversion kit nowadays, much like Liverpool's travails throughout the 1950s were when they were top dogs for large parts of the 70s and 80s.

The truth is, for the past 20 years the Blues have been a distinctive and continued presence in world football, and the current and next generations of players and supporters growing up in this country and others know nothing other than that - just as the struggles of AC Milan, Manchester United, Liverpool and plenty of others have all long gone and been forgotten about.

We're now at the end of a decade which many predicted would never come, and Chelsea are stronger than ever, stronger than most and in a position on and off-field which means they will continue to move forward.

You can either talk about history, or make it. Chelsea and Roman Abramovich are doing the latter.

You can follow me on Twitter @bainesyDiego10 and also don't forget to follow @FanZone on Twitter.



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