Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, then owner of Chelsea Football Club, saw his assets frozen by the British government. Due to his ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime, Abramovich was effectively forced to sell the west London club, ending a 19-year stint as owner that was characterised by almost constant success on the football pitch and frequent churn and change off it.
However, rather than focusing on the Russian’s sale of Chelsea to Todd Boehly and co., in this article, we will instead be going back and looking at his purchase of the club back in 2003. We will be analysing how the deal was done and how much it was worth, before then reflecting on some of the club’s successes under Abramovich’s ownership.
When Did Abramovich Purchase Chelsea?
Roman Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea was finalised on the 1st of July, 2003, following a series of talks and some very brief negotiations with the owner at the time, Ken Bates. Lifelong Blues fan Bates had previously famously purchased the club for just £1 (taking on £1.5 million in debt, we should add), and had managed to steer the club away from what seemed like inevitable bankruptcy.
The club had become a solid, top-six Premier League side, finishing fourth and sixth in the two seasons prior to Abramovich’s takeover. However, the Russian had higher hopes for the Blues, saying that, following his takeover, “We [Chelsea] have the resources and ambition to achieve even more given the huge potential of this club.” Although many of the club’s fans at the time weren’t overly impressed with Abramovich’s purchase of their team, it would be impossible to argue that the Russian didn’t take Chelsea to the “next level”, as Bates said he would.
How Much Did Abramovich Buy Chelsea For?
Abramovich’s takeover of the west London giants reportedly cost him a whopping £140 million in total, yet the club itself only cost £60m, as the rest consisted of the enormous £80 million debt that the club had amassed during the Ken Bates years. However, as he proved time and again throughout his 19-year reign as Blues owner, money is very rarely an issue for Roman Abramovich, who quickly began pouring more and more resources into the club following the completion of the deal.
During the oligarch’s tenure as owner, the west London side spent previously unparalleled amounts of cash on transfer fees and player wages, with the club bringing up a milestone in the 2020 transfer window that was nothing short of absurd: they had officially spent £2 billion on transfer fees alone under Abramovich. Since then we have seen other clubs undergo similar takeovers and splash the cash, notably Man City and, moving forward, Newcastle United. But Chelsea and Abramovich really were the first, at least in this country.
Why Did Abramovich Buy Chelsea?
We’ve covered how Roman Abramovich purchased the club, and how much it set him back, but that just leaves the all-important question of why? Well, the oligarch, who is the primary owner of Millhouse LLC, a private investment company, became incredibly wealthy and powerful at a young age, and therefore seemed keen for a new challenge, a new plaything to pass the time.
In 1999, he was elected governor of Chukotka, a remote region in the far east of Russia, but this perhaps didn’t offer Abramovich the excitement that he was looking for, and he therefore turned to English football. In 2003, months prior to his purchase of Chelsea, the Russian declared, in an interview with the BBC, that he wished to buy a Premier League club as he was “bored and wanted a new challenge.” Nice for some, eh?
However, Chelsea weren’t actually the billionaire’s first choice: he had already been offered a number of other clubs, including Manchester United and Portsmouth, before the Blues were even mentioned. Despite this, Chelsea had one advantage that set them apart from other clubs: they were situated in London. Abramovich had already made the English capital his second home, where he rubbed shoulders with the other wealthy Russians residing there.
His enthusiasm in buying the club is perhaps best highlighted by the fact that his “negotiations” with Ken Bates only lasted a grand total of 15 minutes before a deal was struck. It was also, however, alleged that Abramovich’s takeover of the Blues had an ulterior motive; that it had actually been ordered by Vladimir Putin, in order to raise Russia’s profile in the UK and increase the president’s influence, allegations which Abramovich has denied.
Another rather contrasting theory is that Abramovich bought the club not to please Putin, but to offer himself some protection from him. We will never know for sure what was going on inside the Russian’s head when he chose to purchase Chelsea. However, a theory proposed by Matthew Syed back in 2013 and reiterated since, is that Abramovich felt that owning such a large, visible asset would afford him some protection from the Russia ruler.
We have seen over the many years of Putin’s regime, and especially since the invasion of Ukraine, that offending or upsetting Putin can lead to the gravest consequences. Various business leaders, former members of the military or security services, and politicians have met untimely deaths if they have spoken out against Putin. It is certainly reasonable to think that Abramovich might have considered owning Chelsea as some form of protection against this.
Was Abramovich’s Ownership a Success for the Blues?
Returning to simpler matters, the simple answer here is, yes, it was a huge success. Courtesy of the club’s new-found enormous spending power, Chelsea were able to immediately begin signing some of the world’s top players. One early signing was one of the best, with Didier Drogba, who was picked up in 2004 for a club-record £24 million, going on to become a Chelsea legend. Abramovich’s takeover allowed the Blues to establish themselves as one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the world. They won just about every possible competition, an outrageous 21 trophies in total, with the Russian as owner, which made them the most successful club in England during this period.
Not only was Abramovich’s takeover instrumental in cementing the Blues as one of the world’s top teams long-term, but he also brought immediate and unprecedented success, with the club winning back-to-back Premier Leagues in his second and third seasons. Under new boss, Jose Mourinho, Abramovich’s first managerial appointment, Chelsea stormed to the league title in 2004/05, only losing one game all season and securing their first English league title since 1955, which was just the second in the club’s history.
From then on, the success just didn’t stop, as the club lifted their first Champions League trophy in 2012, a feat they were then able to repeat in 2021. In total, the club won five Premier Leagues, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, two Europa Leagues, two Community Shields, a UEFA Super Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup under Abramovich, a fearsome haul that we have nicely rounded up below.
Chelsea’s Trophies Under Roman Abramovich
|Trophy||Years Won||Number of Titles|
|Premier League||2004/05, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2014/15, 2016/17||5|
|FA Cup||2006/07, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2017/18||5|
|League Cup||2004/05, 2006/07, 2014/15||3|
|Champions League||2011/12, 2020/21||2|
|Europa League||2012/13, 2018/19||2|
|UEFA Super Cup||2021||1|
|FIFA Club World Cup||2021||1|
|Community Shield||2005, 2009||2|