Why football fans owe Roman Abramovich

Despite being greeted with suspicion the Russian billionaire has brought a lot to the Premier League to be grateful for.

    English Premier League fans await to see if Andre Villas Boas is the perfect match for Chelsea [GALLO/GETTY] 

    It was hardly surprising Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich didn't get the warmest of welcomes when he became owner of Chelsea FC in 2003.

    Of course some of his critics envied his wealth but others were understandably concerned about what a Russian businessman - who made his wealth from oil - knew about English football.

    Just what was he up to?

    Many Chelsea fans were grateful for the cash injection but could they really put their faith in this secretive Russian. It must have been hard to trust a man who might ditch the club when it stopped being fun or when it inevitably started to chip away at his huge fortune.

    Even the most successful businessmen - as former Tottenham chairman Alan Sugar can testify – struggle to cash in from the sport. When it comes to making money, football's a mug's game. If Abramovich couldn't make a quick buck from Chelsea, the fans had to cling on to the hope that he had a genuine interest in English football.

    In the years since his takeover, Abramovich has quietly answered his critics with unquestioning financial and emotional loyalty to the club. At the first signs of trouble, and when the Champions League eluded him, Abramovich refused to run and instead became more and more involved with Stamford Bridge.

    He loyally attends Chelsea matches and frequently puts his money where his mouth is.

    However, Abramovich has brought more than money to the game. He has also brought entertainment, controversy, competition, excitement and passion to the Premier League.

    In his quest to own the most successful football team in the world Abramovich has given football a much needed boost. With every move he makes, even ruble he stakes, he remains loyal to creating an attacking and attractive football team that can challenge for both domestic and European titles.

    United in competition

    The Russian owner has certainly played his part in giving Alex Ferguson an unshakeable rival. Let us not forget that without an Abramovich-backed Chelsea, Manchester United would have had little opposition over the last decade. Arsenal have done their best but most seasons come down to a battle between Ferguson and Abramovich. 

    The appointment of Jose Mourinho in 2004 made sure the Premier League was more than just a battle for second place and relegation survival.

    Mourinho and Abramovich united to bring sophistication, drama and fun to the Premier League [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Mourinho's arrival triggered Chelsea's resurgence and led the club to two consecutive league titles in 2005 and 2006.

    In fact, the appointment of Mourinho did more than ensure Manchester United had a rival, it also gave us an enigmatic character who breathed life back into the game. 

    Jose quickly became the media's darling as he weaved the public up in his passionate and arrogant world. British football fans couldn't get enough of Chelsea's "Special One" and Manchester United and Fergie were boring in comparison.

    Mourinho's time at Chelsea proved another point: that Abramovich wasn't afraid to hire a manager who had something to say and the potential to cause mischief.

    Although the two men inevitably fell out, one imagines Mourinho pushed Abramovich to the very limit and enjoyed every single minute of it.

    Following Mourinho's departure Chelsea continued to entertain the media with their conveyor belt style management and signing of sulky, overpaid and underperforming starlets. Finally the efforts of Abramovich and co reaped reward again in 2010 with a third title under Carlo Ancelotti.

    The next episode

    In terms of pure entertainment, Abramovich didn't disappoint last season either. He delighted non-Chelsea supporters with the signing of Fernando "can't find the goal" Torres and the sudden sacking of assistant coach Ray Wilkins.

    However, this week, Abramovich has surpassed himself.

    With the appointment of former Porto manager Andre Villas Boas, Abramovich has triggered a world-record $21.2 million release clause to take an almighty gamble.

    Abramovich has boldly put a man of tender years (33 to be exact) with only 18 months of managerial experience (in Portugal) in charge of his beloved club.

    He has appointed a managerial baby – a baby who is likely to be left out in the cold if Abramovich doesn't walk away with at least two trophies next season.

    "Whether he knows it or not is besides the point, in his ego-driven mission to be the best he has ensured the Premier League is still the best in the world"

    British football fans, who love nothing more than seeing a young, attractive and plucky foreigner fail, will be licking their lips with anticipation.

    And the new appointment raises some interesting pre-season questions; Can Villas Boas go one better than his former mentor Jose Mourinho and win the Champions League? Will the Portuguese manager achieve the impossible and make Alex Ferguson's face even redder next season.

    All this excitement is down to Roman Abramovich.

    Whether he knows it or not is besides the point, in his ego-driven mission to be the best he has ensured the Premier League is still the best in the world.

    It is time to thank Roman Abramovich and apologise for ever doubting him.

    This Russian oligarch has proven time and time again that he is about more than just money – he is driven by glory, risk-taking, sacrifice and entertainment.

    Now let the fun begin.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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