EXPLAINER: How Abramovich changed the face of English football

Roman Abramovich changed the face of English football when he took over Chelsea in 2003.

The Russian billionaire didn’t just turn the then somewhat underachieving London club into a leading force in England within a few years and later into a European and world champion.

It ushered in an era of remarkable spending, the likes of which gambling had never seen, which inevitably led the super-rich in Abu Dhabi, the United States, Asia and, more recently, Saudi Arabia to enter and compete as owners of England’s biggest clubs.

He also ensured that the transfer market was distorted by paying more than transfer fees and wages, exacerbating the inequalities between haves and have-nots in the English game.

A look at Abramovich’s 19-year reign, which is set to come to an end after he announced his intention to sell Chelsea amid the threat of financial sanctions against the Russians following the invasion of Ukraine:


Prior to Abramovich’s arrival, Chelsea were widely regarded as a ‘cup team’. Indeed, his one and only league title returned in 1955. That quickly changed.

The Abramovich era has seen Chelsea win 19 major trophies, including the Champions League twice – in 2012 and 2021.

National trophies came thick and fast, and fast. The first of five Premier League titles came at the end of Abramovich’s second season under control. There have also been five FA Cups and three League Cups.

Add to that two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and, most recently, the Club World Cup – for the first time in the club’s history – in Abu Dhabi last month, which has enabled Chelsea to win every trophy possible under Abramovich.

No English side have won more trophies than Chelsea since Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge.


To say Abramovich was ruthless when it came to hiring and firing managers would be an understatement. For much of his tenure, failing to win the Premier League was effectively the death knell for a Chelsea manager – like when Carlo Ancelotti was sacked in 2011 in the bowels of Everton’s Goodison Park at the end. in his second season in charge, having won the club’s first league and cup double in his first.

Claudio Ranieri was the manager when Abramovich arrived and he was dropped after just one season.

Jose Mourinho – brash, awash with confidence and a tactical genius – was the first face of Abramovich’s Chelsea until he fell out with the Russian in 2007 after three trophy-filled years. Mourinho returned for a second stint, from 2013 to 2015, and again won the league.

The only other manager to win the league under Abramovich was Antonio Conte, in 2017.

There were some big-name hire duds, with young Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas proving far from The Special One during his 8½ months in charge in 2011-12 and Frank Lampard failing to imitate his remarkable game. Chelsea career as team manager from 2019-21.


Chelsea spent more than 100 million pounds ($135 million) on players in less than seven weeks during the first summer transfer window of Abramovich’s reign. In the second, there was an outlay of an additional 94 million pounds ($125 million), laying the platform for Mourinho’s wave of trophies.

These were unprecedented sums, leading Arsene Wenger – then manager of Premier League rivals Arsenal – to describe Chelsea as a “financially doped club” with “unlimited” resources.

The emergence of Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City from 2008 finally gave Chelsea a challenger in the transfer market, but the west London club embarked on their biggest spending spree to date in the summer of 2020, with notable spending approaching $300 million.

In total, Chelsea have spent over £2 billion ($2.7 billion) on players under Abramovich.


Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is the most expensive signing of the Abramovich era, arriving for 97 million pounds ($135 million) last summer for a second stint at the club.

Six other players joined for over £50million, including two other centre-forwards who turned out to be flops – Alvaro Morata and Fernando Torres.

One player, in particular, stands out for being a so-called Abramovich signing. It was Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko, who was slapped on Mourinho in 2006 for a then-British record fee of around 30 million pounds (now $40 million) and never lived up to the bill. his reputation. Shevchenko was reportedly the reason a feud broke out between Abramovich and Mourinho, leading to the Portuguese coach’s exit the following year.


Abramovich’s money could not buy everything, however.

One of the sources of frustration has been their inability to play Chelsea in a stadium of a size that rivals Manchester United’s Old Trafford and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, maximizing matchday revenue.

Stamford Bridge only has a capacity of around 42,000, just over half the seats at Old Trafford, and Abramovich tried to buy out full ownership – from a group of fans called Chelsea Pitch Owners – in 2012 as part of its plans for a new stadium.

The idea was to sell this land to fund a move to a stadium on the site of Battersea Power Station in London, which overlooks the River Thames.

Abramovich failed and put his plans on hold.

Then, in 2018, planning permission was granted for the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, only for the idea to be scrapped due to what the club described as an “unfavorable investment climate”.


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