When Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club for £140 million in the summer of 2003, it was evident that he had big plans to transform the club to the size and stature that it is today. With his involvement set to end, Vinay Patel takes a look back at his tenure.
The Russian was keen to get the ball rolling in his first season, spending over £100 million
Before the takeover, Chelsea had won just one league title, three FA Cups, two League Cups, and were without any major European trophies. Fast forward nearly 20 years and Chelsea have amassed an astounding 19 major trophies under Abramovich and are one of the best teams in the world. However, success did not come easily for Abramovich. The billionaire has overseen 10 full-time managers in his time as owner and become renowned for his ruthless ‘hiring and firing’ policy that sought – and often found – instant success.
The Russian was keen to get the ball rolling in his first season, spending over £100 million. Despite a second placed finish in the Premier League and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked and replaced by a young Jose Mourinho. Abramovich’s appointment of Mourinho quickly paid off, winning their first Premier League and League Cup double.
Chelsea went onto retain the title the next season and as a result were able to attract some of the world’s biggest stars, such as Andriy Shevchenko. Although this signing was not as successful as Abramovich would have hoped, it was clear to the Russian that the club was moving in the right direction. Mourinho’s first spell at the club ended at the start of the 2007/08 season – winning two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup.
His ‘hiring and firing’ policy arguably emulated that of Mourinho’s appointment
Fast forward to the 2009/10 season, where newly appointed Carlo Ancelotti led Chelsea to their first Premier League and FA Cup double. He could not build on that success a season later, despite the signing of Fernando Torres from rivals Liverpool for a then British transfer record fee of £50 million. The Italian was sacked at the end of the season. 2012 saw mounting pressure upon underperforming manager Andre-Villas Boas culminate in his firing by Abramovich, with caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo overseeing the rest of Chelsea’s season.
His ‘hiring and firing’ policy arguably emulated that of Mourinho’s appointment, with Di Matteo leading the Blues to their first Champions League title alongside an FA cup final victory. However, the Italian’s time at the club was short-lived, being sacked within eight months of his appointment after crashing out of the Champions League group stages. Rafa Benitez was hired as interim manager and with the help of summer signings such as César Azpilicueta (for just £8 million!) and Eden Hazard, Chelsea won the Europa League in 2013.
That summer saw the re-appointment of Jose Mourinho, who despite overseeing a trophy-less first campaign, won the Premier League and League Cup double the following season. During an atrocious title defence in the 2015/16 season, Mourinho was again sacked and replaced by Antonio Conte in 2016. In his first full season, Conte won Chelsea’s fifth Premier League title but was sacked a year later after only achieving a fifth-place finish and an FA Cup trophy, with Abramovich yet again deeming this to be below standards.
Conte was replaced by fellow Italian Mauricio Sarri, who signed Kepa Arrizabalaga for a world record fee (for a goalkeeper) of £72 million. His first and only season saw Chelsea lift their second Europa League title before joining Juventus in the summer of 2019. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Abramovich as in February 2019, Chelsea were handed a transfer ban due to failing to register their youth players before playing them and imposing a third-party influence on other clubs’ operation regarding transfer-related issues.
Thomas Tuchel was quickly appointed and completely transformed Chelsea’s season
Left to deal with their summer transfer ban and the departure of talisman Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, Abramovich turned to Chelsea legend Frank Lampard. The Englishman led the Blues to a fourth placed finish and an FA Cup final. The summer of 2020 saw a spending spree exceeding £200 million, with notable signings including Kai Havertz, Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva. Despite this, Chelsea were ninth in the league table in January 2021 and so Frank Lampard was sacked, causing uproar within both the media and fanbase.
Thomas Tuchel was quickly appointed and completely transformed Chelsea’s season, guiding them to a fourth placed finish, an FA Cup final and against all odds, a second Champions League title. Abramovich’s ruthless tactics yet again paid off. One of his final transfers as club owner was completing the re-signing of Romelu Lukaku for a club record fee of £97.5 million. Securing the UEFA Super Cup and winning the Club World Cup for the first time in their history was conclusive proof that Roman Abramovich had transformed Chelsea Football Club into a global force to be reckoned with.
He must also receive plaudits for vastly improving their youth development setup, spending a reported £20 million on the Cobham Training Centre. His investment paid off as academy graduates such as Mason Mount and Reece James played an integral part in Chelsea’s recent Champions League triumph.
Chelsea’s future hangs in the balance of Russia’s future actions in Ukraine
Abramovich had put Chelsea up for sale at the beginning of March, but the UK government sanctions placed upon him as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have frozen the oligarch’s assets. This means that the club cannot be sold in the current circumstances. Chelsea’s future hangs in the balance of Russia’s future actions in Ukraine.
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