Roman Abramovich, the Russian-Israeli businessman and owner of Chelsea Football Club. (Photo by … [+]
In early 2002, Roman Abramovich noticed that his new interest kept leading to the same thought.
Whenever work meetings took him to cities across Europe, the Russian-Israeli businessman found himself attending football matches. It didn’t take more than a few games to realize what was running through his mind. “There was so much emotion, so much excitement. I remember thinking, ‘I want to be a part of this,’” Abramovich says.
Something else about the sport was also grabbing the billionaire entrepreneur’s attention. “The fact that there is no set formula for winning football matches. A coach and his or her squad have to consider many factors when approaching each match. It’s like every few days is a new exam and the work you have put in gets evaluated. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the unpredictability and seeing how each game plays out.”
Abramovich was soon sharing his excitement during conversations with business associates. That quickly grew into the idea of owning a football club.
On the first day of July 2003, news out of London reported Abramovich as the new owner of Chelsea Football Club. It was a surprising development for three reasons. First, Chelsea was a historic English club that didn’t change ownership hands often. Second, the purchase price of £140-million, including £75-million of debt, was more than anyone had ever paid for a club in the English Premier League. And, third, the buyer was bringing major foreign investment to the British game.
“In hindsight, especially with the public profile it would bring me, maybe I would have thought differently about owning a club,” Abramovich says with a gentle smile and chuckle. “But, at the time, I just saw this incredible game and that I wanted to be a part of that in one way or another.”
The road leading Abramovich to become owner of Chelsea was the starting point for this conversation, which took place via Zoom. Examples and concepts of the work being done by the club have appeared in my teaching and writing about decision-making in sports business. An interest in gaining further insights led to the opportunity to talk with Abramovich about his involvement with the club.
The substantial sum of money invested in growing the club since the beginning of his ownership has followed two ambitions: “to create world-class teams on the pitch; and to ensure the club plays a positive role in all of its communities.”
Abramovich says those were not just polished words then and aren’t now. The reason why “first of all, is when you say something, you have to always follow through. And, I guess, that is especially if you’re a person who doesn’t say much. So, what you do say is very important,” he says. “Second, football is society. Football is part of society and society is part of football. So, it’s the natural state of things for football to be in be involved, to support the community, and to be present in the community.”
“The ambitions,” he continues, “are as true now as they were when I first became owner and I hope that can be seen through the work we have been doing on and off the pitch over the last 17 years.”
Those ambitions are ingrained in a strategy that has enabled Chelsea to recruit some of the world’s top talent on, around, and off the pitch. It men’s, women’s, and academy teams have collected to a total of 36 major trophies from competitions in England and around the world. “I think the trophies speak for themselves and show what we as a club have been able to achieve over these years,” Abramovich says, “and it’s my goal for us to keep winning trophies going forward and build for the future.”
“Chelsea has a very rich history, and I feel extremely fortunate to a play a part in that,” he adds. “The club was here before me, and will be here after me, but my job is to ensure we are as successful as we c