Roman Abramovich and the End of Football’s Oligarch Era


Over the years there have been three stories about how Roman Abramovich came ashore in Chelsea. Each now serves as a kind of time capsule, a carbon-dated relic from a particular era, capturing in amber every aspect of our understanding of exactly what football has become.

The first took root soon after Abramovich took over for Chelsea. It was light, blurry, somewhat romantic. According to the story, Abramovich was at Old Trafford the night Manchester United fans played in 2003. stood alone To applaud the great Brazilian striker Ronaldo as he sweeps their team out of the Champions League.

It has been said that Abramovich was so impressed that he decided there and then wanted a piece of English football. He thought of Arsenal and Tottenham and settled on Chelsea, which drifts bohemian and glamorous just below the Premier League elite. He had fallen so hard and so fast that he bought the club in little more than a weekend.

And that was nearly enough back then. It was absurd, foreign, that this unbelievably wealthy riddle had suddenly landed at Chelsea and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in transfer fees as if it were nothing. But it was flattering in those early days of Londongrad, when Moscow-on-Thames, the capital’s most beautiful streets, the plastered houses of Russian oligarchs, the best schools in the country with their children.

All of this appealed not just to the laissez-faire approach of Tony Blair’s Britain – come, all of you – as long as you can afford it for the price of a ticket – but to the ego of both the country as a whole and the Prime Minister. Especially league.

The young plutocrats of Russia had more money than Croesus, more money than God, money to buy anything they wanted. And it seems that what they wanted more than anything else was to be British. Abramovich wanted to be English so badly that he bought a football team, a toy in the world’s biggest league. His money just added a little extra spice, a glimmer of shine to the endless drama of the Premier League; its money served to make the great British soft power project a little more attractive.

It only appeared a few years later, after the second storyline was jailed. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and poisoning Alexander Litvinenko. Maybe the idea was in the air, Abramovich did not fall in love with football; more precisely, he didn’t just fall in love with football. Maybe he had ulterior motives. After all, Chelsea didn’t just give him access to the highest echelons of English society; it also brought him a profile, a reputation.

In particular – in one of the rare interviews he’s given since arriving in England, “they’ll forget me one day,” he had said – but he seemed prepared to believe it was a price worth paying. Being an oligarch was a dangerous job. Chelsea was perhaps Abramovich’s safety against the changing waves in the Kremlin.

This is the story we tell ourselves as Chelsea move from usurper to establishment, the club that initially inspired the idea of ​​smashing the riches, suddenly reshaped into one of its foremost defenders. That was the story that took root when Chelsea won Premier League titles because they had conquered Europe not once, but twice: that football was the haven, the ultimate sign of acceptance.

In reality, however, the narrative was challenged when others began adapting Abramovich’s playbook. First one and then two Premier League teams came under the aegis of nation-states, or entities so closely linked to nation-states, that it can be hard to tell the difference unless you really, really want to squint. The idea of ​​a sports wash stirred the conversation. The sense that football was used took root. Abramovich’s possible motives were reconsidered.

And then on Thursday, we saw for the first time – clear as day – what the point of all this was, the true, unpolished version of the story. For two weeks, the British government lingered to apply. sanctions For Abramovich, though not necessarily the wealthiest, or even the most powerful, he is nevertheless the highest profile of the entire oligarch caste, the face of the western oligarchy.

A staggering portion of those two weeks was spent trying to figure out a way to keep Chelsea running roughly normally after Abramovic’s other assets were frozen. Players, staff and fans – especially fans – should not suffer, the government said. A few hours ago, Russian artillery had bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine. But the government was clear: the sanctity of the Premier League could not be tainted.

Apparently that was the goal from the start. Abramovich likely nurtured the profile that having Chelsea brought him. He certainly seemed to enjoy sports.

But mainly, he came to football because football infected him into English society in a way that having another job would never have done. None of the other sanctioned oligarchs were given a bespoke “license” to continue running one of their businesses. After all, that’s not how sanctions are supposed to work. It took us 19 years and thousands of Ukrainians dead to understand this, to see the world as it is.

Now, finally, we know why Abramovich is here. Now, finally, we can begin to understand the price we all pay. It’s not just Chelsea that have to face an uncertain future: it’s not just the next few months as the club moves forward. thicket of restrictions – club shop closed, hotel no longer allowed to sell food and rent rooms, crowd restricted to season ticket holders – but beyond.

The club could be driven into bankruptcy by being sold by the government to the highest bidder. Or maybe it will fade, slowly and irreversibly, players leave when allowed, club unable to sign substitutions. Maybe there will be peace and sanctions will be relaxed and maybe Abramovich can get his investment and loans back. No matter how it is played, there is no turning back. Fans don’t know and cannot know what will happen next. It’s up to them to decide if the memories and trophies are worth it.

The echoes of Abramovich’s quick and sudden exit will be carried further into the game. His arrival marked the beginning of what would eventually be thought of as the oligarchic age of football. Abramovich was as stated last weekIt is with only a handful of clubs hoarding all the riches of the game, ruthlessly destroying their natural resources for their own benefit, whose arrival started the inflationary spiral that has irreparably broken European football.

His departure will be no less epoch-making. Modern elite football is built on growth, with the idea that there is always more money. This is the reason why Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona want so fervently to start a European Super League, because they are convinced that they could reap the bottomless riches of the entire league if they didn’t have to deal with UEFA. publishers and sponsors are dying to top up their accounts.

This is why UEFA is so determined. To expand the Champions LeagueHe was so sure he could find the money to satisfy the boundless greed of the great and the good. All this is based on the belief that not only will the golden goose continue to lay eggs, but that there are a hundred, thousand more golden geese, many more of them.

If this was true once, it is not now. UEFA will find another sponsor for the Champions League to replace Gazprom, but not such a generous sponsor. After all, there is a premium to be paid for the use of soft power. Exponential growth is quite challenging when one of its main drivers is shutting down.

Therefore, clubs are also faced with a showdown. It’s not just the suits that princes, nation-states, and politicians have, but those that don’t. It’s not just rising television rights deals that attract “acceptable” investors to football, private equity groups, hedge funds and Wall Street speculators. They did not fall more in love with the game than Abramovich.

At some point in the future when they made their club as profitable as possible and the prospect of a lucrative return was imminent, they all bought to get out of here. However, they suddenly realize that the list of potential buyers is limited. Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia: they all have their own clubs now. this big gush of money from china As Inter Milan can confirm, it ended years ago. Russian money is no longer in question.

Even if these markets are closed and sealed, there is of course no shortage of the rich, powerful and speculative. But what remains is a different type of buyer: These are other private equity firms, other hedge funds, other types of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Mostly they are the ones who want to make a profit. They don’t want to be top buyers. They didn’t make money as suckers.

This may seem like a somewhat vague, theoretical twist, but it has real implications. This means re-evaluating how much profit can be made and how big the payout can be. That means changing the equation of how much is worth putting in. Change will not happen overnight, dramatically. But there will still be a change.

This will be Abramovich’s ultimate legacy, the lasting impact of what seemed like a fad and ended in a matter of weeks, in the middle of a war. The oligarch age of football is over. This time there is no excuse for not understanding what the game has become. We have clarity on this. Where it goes from here is shrouded in doubt.

If I listed every Brooklynite who wrote to me last week to let me know that there are several cricket grounds in Brooklyn, we’d be here for a long time. There are so many in fact, my current impression is that there are very few places in Brooklyn other than the cricket ground, so perhaps it needs to diversify its sports offerings a bit.

The exact number of cricket grounds in Brooklyn remains the subject of heated debate. Fritz Favorite He scored five, also mentioning the Brooklyn Cricket League Laurence Bachmann He spoke of “at least half a dozen I know of,” suggesting instead that the real number could be in the thousands.

Thanks also to Laurence for being the only reporter willing to take on the harder side of this equation. “There are thousands of bakeries,” he added. Maybe, Laurence, but have any of them made a steak slice? (Admittedly, she vouches for their hot dog rolls, which are a good start.)

Regardless, I apologize for causing such crime in one of New York’s five largest boroughs. To be honest, Brooklyn doesn’t need to worry about competition from Headingley in particular.

On a less fragile note, thank you Felipe Gaete For offering a Chilean perspective to Bielsa. You’ll remember it was in Chile where Bielsa became the main force in South American football for a couple of great years. “I thought a lot about why it was so popular in an area where silverware is important,” Felipe said.

“I think he has a lot of values ​​that most of us know to be true but can’t afford to implement: He’s giving back a goal for fair play. It’s also the embodiment of what most fans enjoy most: hope. The joy of winning is often very short compared to the feeling of what might happen.”

It feels great and true, Felipe, so it seems appropriate to leave the final word to you.



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