Roman Abramovich finally attained his holy grail. It only took eight years and over $2.8 billion to achieve his lifelong dream.
Russian billionaire, oil-tycoon Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea Football Club eight years ago with one goal in mind: a Champions League title. In the eight seasons as the owner, he’s turned Chelsea from a Premier League laughingstock into one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world.
Since Abramovich took over in 2003, the club has had nothing but success. They have won the English Premier League three times as well as the FA Cup four times during his tenure. Chelsea’s success against English competition was not enough to quench the thirst of the glory-hungry Abramovich. He’s had eight different managers in his eight years as owner, even though they’ve been one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world over the last decade. He’s sacked unbelievably successful managers who had either won him an FA cup and/or a Premier League title. There’s none more successful or famous than “the special one”-Jose Mourinho.
Due to his incredibly high expectations, Roman Abramovich made it clear to his managers what he expected from them: Champions League or bust!
Whether at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, or his current post at Real Madrid, everywhere Jose Mourinho has managed, he’s won silverware. He’s known as “the special one” because everything he touches turns to trophies. While at Chelsea, Mourinho achieved unprecedented success. In his first campaign in the 2004-05 season, he won the league cup, took Chelsea to the semi-final round of the Champions League, and brought them their first premier league title in 50 years, while setting the English record for most points (95) and fewest goals allowed (15) in a single season. That’s incredibly impressive for someone in his first year as manager. No Chelsea manager has come close to replicating Mourinho’s success. It’s unfortunate that after three wildly successful years as the manager, Abramovich forced Mourinho out due to differences of opinion on the direction of the team, which became personal.
The $2.8 billion invested into the team over the course of the past eight seasons is by far the most money put into any squad by an owner over that time span. Fans laughed, so did other owners, but Abramovich just kept pouring money into the club. Guess who’s laughing now? He spent an unprecedented $1.01 billion in transfer fees to bring in over 60 world-class players. Another $1.8 billion was spent just in player wages during that same time. Both numbers blow away any other club’s spending, however, his spending frenzy upon his takeover of the team helped jump-start a new era of hyper-spending throughout the soccer world. A prime example of this is what has gone on at Manchester City over the past few years.
Four years ago, the Abu Dhabi United Group (a sovereign wealth fund) bought Manchester City Football Club in hopes of emulating the success that Abramovich experienced. Abu Dhabi’s pockets are as deep as the Chelsea owners and they’re definitely not afraid to spend their money and spend it recklessly. Since taking over in 2008, the group has spent over $930 million in mostly player transfers and wages. They brought in expensive players such as Mario Balotelli, Sergio “Kun” Aguero, and Edin Dzeko, and David Silva to name a few. Abramovich’s tactics were novel and successful and therefore became a model of winning for other clubs to emulate. His success made others realize that if you have deep enough pockets, you can win, regardless of your location or history.
With all of the variables that come with the territory, owning a successful sports franchise is not easy. While Abramovich has plenty of money to spend and spends it well (for the most part), it seemed as though his team wasn’t destined to fulfill his personal goal, despite their overall success.
They lost in heartbreaking fashion against Manchester United in the finals in 2008 when longtime captain John Terry missed a game-clinching penalty. Fortunes seemed to be against them in 2012 as well, with Bayern Munich dominating the possession and creating opportunities throughout regulation and overtime. Even after withstanding all the pressure, Chelsea contributed to a dramatic finish by falling behind by two penalty kicks to start off the five-kick determinate. However, they did the unthinkable and won their first Champions League title.
The business of sports is interesting in that many owners spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars only to see their money go to waste. Obviously, financial backing is an important component in becoming a successful franchise (more so in soccer than in any other sport because there’s no salary cap), but it doesn’t always correlate or lead to success. Success is built from the bottom up, where everyone in the organization is on the same page and buys into the system put in place. It’s not an easy task to get everyone in your organization to see eye to eye or to play together with a unified purpose, but after eight years and many disappointing finishes in the Champions League, they finally unified.
Now that Abramovich has the hardware he’s been thirsting for, he must feel his overzealous investment was worth it. One has to believe that after investing so much in the team since he became owner that he will attempt to take Chelsea to new, even greater heights. A man like Abromavich is never satisfied. He’s already secured two pretty big transfers in German’s Marko Marin and Belgium’s Eden Hazard, with a number of other players on the Chelsea radar. Perhaps it would take a Champions League title along with Premier League and FA Cup titles in the same year (the true Triple Holy Grail) for Abramovich to be satisfied with his career as the Chelsea owner.
What’s more fascinating about the Russian billionaire is that the only manager to win him a Champions League tittle, Robert Di Matteo (who took over mid season for the heralded Andres Villas-Boas), isn’t even close to guaranteed a return to the Blue’s sidelines. He took over a struggling squad midseason, brought them together, won the FA cup, and then went on to become the first Blues’ manager to win a Champions League trophy. How can you not at least give the guy a one-year contract? Here’s a clue to why that might be.
The first ever Champions League title for Chelsea will have a great economic impact for everyone involved. Ticket sales will undoubtedly increase, as will nationally and internationally televised games. The Champions League victory gives the club an unprecedented amount of exposure that only teams like Manchester United, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid are used to. That’s something Abramovich will more than welcome.
Every sport has bandwagon fans. Soccer isn’t any different. With the Champions league win, the exposure for the club right now is through the roof. So, if you were a fair-weather soccer fan why wouldn’t you jump on the Chelsea bandwagon? They’ve been more than a respectable club for the last decade, they have great players that are fun to watch, and they’re fresh off a Champions League title. There isn’t a better time than now to be a Chelsea fan.
Roman Abramovich’s investment of epic proportions will go down in soccer lore for eternity and the ROI can’t get any sweeter for a man who’s poured his heart, soul, and most notably his checkbook into the club.