Nobody seemed to know who Roman Arkadievich Abramovich was when it was announced that the Russian billionaire had bought Chelsea FC in 2003.
He was young publicity, shy, a governor of a faraway frozen province in Russia and had made a lot of money in oil and gas.
He gave one interview to the BBC saying that he had wanted to buy a football club, essentially because he was bald and wanted a new challenge. Chelsea wasn’t. His first choice – vinnitsa, he V – the Israeli super agent and fixer – had offered a number of options.
Portsmouth FC was mentioned, as was Manchester United, but Chelsea offered something attractive for one. The club was in London, which Abramovic had made his second home amongst the wealthy Russian elite.
Chelsea was also in dire financial straits. Ken Bates had dragged the club into the modern era after buying Chelsea for one pound in the early 1980s, but by 2003 the club had a huge amount of debt and was struggling to meet a 23 million dollar interest payment enter Abramovic who, according to then Chelsea Ceo Trevor birch concluded the deal in just 15 minutes.
Abramovich came from humble beginnings. He was born in 1966 in Saratov on the Volga River into a Jewish family, but he would be an orphan at five and was brought up by an uncle. Then his grandmother in Moscow he studied highway engineering, although no evidence exists that he graduated and entered the army for his national service.
When he came out in 1986, the world was changing. Mikhail Gorbachev was now trying to reform a creaking Soviet state, introducing the concepts of glasnost, openness and perestroika. Economic and political restructuring.
Abramovic seized the opportunity and started a series of businesses. Some successful, some, not one involved. The trade in toys, especially rubber, ducks out of an apartment he shared with his first wife in Moscow.
It brought him a handsome income compared with others in the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union presented ambitious men with greater more controversial opportunities. The exact nature of Abramovich is early fortune is unclear, but what is known is that he soon moved into trading in oil.
Arguably, Russia’s greatest natural asset in the chaotic post-communist years that industry was fraught with danger, but the rewards for those that navigated, it were huge by 1993 Abramovic, was considered of sufficient interest and wealth to be invited to a meeting on a yacht.
In the Caribbean featuring some of the leading businessman to profit from the post-soviet era, there he met Boris Berezovsky, a mathematical genius who had made a fortune in trading in Soviet made cars.
The two became partners and agreed on that fateful day to try and rationalize the oil industry through vertical integration, essentially grouping different companies involved in extracting and refining oil under one umbrella company, which they would control.
This was realized thanks to the now infamous loans-for-shares program. Boris Yeltsin was elected.
Russia’s first post communist president in part for his role in ending a coup. In 1991, he embarked on a series of painful free-market reforms by 1996.
His re-election campaign up against the Communist Gennady Zyuganov, was in the balance he needed money and good press. So he struck a deal with Russia’s newly enriched oligarchs. They would ensure his election and in return, would be given first dibs on the privatization of state assets with the Utzon’s, campaign coffers swelled and wall-to-wall positive coverage in media controlled by his oligarchs.
Yeltsin won the election. Subsequently, Russia’s. Most valuable state assets were sold at a fraction of the market price. After yeltsin’s, reelection bela, zovsky and Abramovic bought Sydnor for 100 million dollars.
It’s thought that its true worth was close to 3 billion. It made them billionaires at a time when most Russian citizens were struggling to put food on the table under Yeltsin. The oligarchs wielded extraordinary power and became despised in Russia for their greed and exploitation, but by the end of the 90s Yeltsin was ill and struggling with alcohol addiction.
He was forced to step down at a time where he was deeply unpopular, largely thanks to the 1998 financial crisis when the ruble collapsed enter of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man who had built a power base in his native st.
Petersburg and was Yeltsin’s chosen replacement, fellows offski, as well as other yachts and oligarchs like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who bought Yukos oil and was Russia’s. Richest man had their own ambitions for power or reform, and didn’t, see Putin as much of a threat, but seeing the writing on the wall.
Abramovic quickly aligned himself with Putin who had promised that he would smash the oligarchs and bring their wealth back under state control, one by one. Their fortunes were taken, their assets seized by the state and the oligarchs jailed, usually on trumped-up tax charges.
In 2003, Khodorkovsky was arrested for tax evasion and fraud among other challenges, but not Abramovic. Putin demanded absolute loyalty if they were to keep their fortunes, including abandoning any thoughts of political power.
Part of that, according to defectors and several investigations involved, paying a form of tribute Abramovic and others allegedly contributed millions of dollars to projects close to Putin like investing in a black sea palace that has been dubbed Putin’s palace and to buy a State-Of-The-Art yacht for Putin called Olympia.
Abramovic has always denied this. When the bbc’s, panorama made the allegations again. In 2016, his lawyers dismissed them as a rehash of speculation and rumor. One man who did talk was Boris Berezovsky, who openly said he refused to contribute, thus starting a split between him, Abramovic and Putin.
That would eventually lead to Berta Tov skis exile in London. Many of those details came from the single biggest civil litigation in British legal history, the 2012, but a tough ski versus at Brown, which case which made bear the lengths.
Both men had gone to to keep their fortunes. Burris offski alleged that Abramovitch on the orders of Putin had conspired to take away his fortune and his ort television station, which had been especially critical of Putin Abramovic vehemently denied this.
In the end, Bellus offices claim for billions of dollars from rama, which failed the judge. Finding that Berezovsky was an unreliable witness, but the case had laid bare how business was done and fortunes were kept.
Masha jisun an experienced russian journalist who covered the trial for vanity fair’wrote in defending himself Abramovic made an important admission being an opposition to Puting was dangerous to business and the people who ran them and had been since the earliest days of Putin’s rule a year later, Berezovsky was dead by what appeared to be suicide, but the coroner’s.
Court left an open verdict. Abramovic has been a key Puting ally. He sold Sibneft in 2005 to gas prom for 13 point 1 billion dollars, making him one of the richest men in the world. He was the governor for the remote province of Jakarta until 2008 and was a key figure in Russia’s.
Successful 2010 bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals, but it is for his investment in Chelsea that he is best known around the globe. His carefree attitude to spending, including two billion pound in his first ten years, has transformed the game, terrifying, other top clubs who could not compete being a millionaire was no longer enough.
Only a member of the billionaire’s. Club could compete under his watch. Chelsea has been transformed into one of the biggest clubs in the world since 2003, no English club has won more silverware at the 2012 Champions League.
Being the icing on the cake, Forbes estimates that Chelsea is now the seventh most valuable club in the world. Above your Ventus AC, Milan and Liverpool, and next they will move into a state-of-the-art rebuilt stadium on the site of Stamford Bridge, cementing his legacy and adulation amongst Chelsea’s.
His reasons for buying Chelsea remain opaque, given his secretive nature, and given the publicity that buying a Premier League club was bound to get him the given that Abramovic has kept his fortune.
Whilst many of yeltsin’s, oligarchs have lost theirs. Buying Chelsea perhaps made sense, football gave him a non-threatening international profile and perhaps even insurance against it all being taken away.