Sportswriter Samuel Solden reflects on the current ongoings at Chelsea FC.
When Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club in 2003, shockwaves were sent around the football world. This takeover is widely regarded as one of the decisive factors that led to the Premier League receiving large amounts of money from foreign investors. These financial actions saw many football clubs such as Manchester City and Newcastle gain significant investment from overseas. Abramovich has brought unrivalled success to Chelsea, with the club winning over 20 trophies during his tenure as an owner including two Champions Leagues. However, despite this success, there have always been questions about Abramovich’s integrity and his unscrupulous relationship with the Russian Government.
It is undeniable that Abramovich has had close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This largely came to light when he was found to be the first person to recommend to ex-Russian President Boris Yeltsin that Vladimir Putin should be his successor. After inexplicit rumours that Abramovich was acting as a peace negotiator between Russia and Ukraine, it was then revealed that Abramovich has investments in a company that has supplied tanks to the Russian army. This, coupled with his relationship with Vladimir Putin, has led to the British Government imposing economic sanctions on Roman Abramovich and freezing his assets in the United Kingdom. It has also led to Chelsea Football Club being banned from signing players, new contracts for current players and being able to take any card payments, also leading to the temporary closure of the Club shop. Abramovich is therefore unable to sell the club, something that had been in the works before he was sanctioned. This has certainly left Chelsea in a position of incertitude with most fans, players and staff around the club not knowing what will happen next.
Chelsea needs to plan for life without Abramovich. The senior men’s team manager Thomas Tuchel has tried to downplay rumours that Chelsea is in a serious state of flux and that the sanctions could see the end of his tenure as manager coupled with a mass exodus of star players. Tuchel has got through this period of uncertainty for the club with “grace and humility”, choosing to continually condemn the war in Ukraine while also producing satisfying results on the pitch. Tuchel has rightfully condemned fans’ chants in support of Roman Abramovich, calling on fans to “show respect” to the people of Ukraine. Tuchel has shown he is not afraid to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rubber-stamping his credentials as a leader at the club and within the Premier League as a whole.
In terms of finding a new owner, some offers have come in. The club, which is playing under a special licence obtained from the Premier League, is an attractive prospect to many investors. It stands far from being a project like the one at Newcastle as Chelsea is already established as one of the major players in English and European football. The winners of the 2022 Club World Cup have attracted offers from the current owner of the Chicago Cubs, Chelsea supporting British businessman Nick Candy and surprisingly Conor McGregor. It is now up to the British Government to allow Abramovich to sell the club to the right owner, but this needs to be achieved in the eyes of the British Government without money going to Abramovich himself. The question is, how long can Chelsea hang on for? The contracts of star players such as Antonio Rudiger and captain Cesar Azpilicueta are set to expire in the summer of 2022 therefore if a new owner is not found by then, the players will have no choice but to leave Chelsea. The uncertainty around the club may force them out anyway but if Chelsea wants any chance of keeping these two essential defenders then they need to be able to sell soon.
The future of Chelsea football club lies in the hands of the British Government. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the attitude towards Russian oligarchs owning assets in the United Kingdom, with Chelsea potentially being a victim of this invasion due to its owner’s direct links to Putin.
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