The cynicism with which Roman Abramovich has enmeshed good things in his Chelsea property puts in jeopardy the real gains made under his tenure.
As a Chelsea fan, he was a person of whom I felt a certain pride. He invested in the club and helped it win. He also created generational role models and changed the culture of Chelsea for the better.
But it was not an altruistic enterprise. For every ruble invested in the club, Roman Abramovich also invested in himself.
It was not a happy accident, but by design. Abramovich wanted to make sure he was at the center of a major, public entity with significant community support. The club’s success was tied to its reputation. But the truth is, Chelsea FC fans have known about his connections for a long time – they chose to ignore him because of the way Abramovich launched the club to triumph.
The oligarch has a supposed “father-son relationship” with Vladimir Putin, and was the former governor of Chukotka in Russia, as well as a former member of the State Duma in Moscow. That’s before we even scratch the surface of how he acquired and built his wealth.
In 2018, when the Home Office refused to renew Abramovich’s visa because of his ties to Putin, he was still working hard to safeguard his legacy in Britain. He tied himself and his fortune to causes such as fighting anti-Semitism, teaching about the Holocaust, and his faith — things that are hard to criticize and denounce.
Now the tangle is unraveling.
Abramovich gained Israeli and Portuguese citizenship through his Jewish heritage. But now even that is being questioned, and Portuguese police are investigating money laundering, corruption, fraud – and falsifying documents in order to obtain citizenship.
After years of supporting and campaigning against anti-Semitism in Chelsea, Israel’s Yad Vashem National Museum has cut ties with the oligarch.
Last month, as the vultures circled, he made an “eight-figure donation” to the museum in a last ditch effort to clean up his reputation.
This makes a mockery of many of the causes he has tied himself to. He was using them to underpin that facade of ‘loving’ the club, ultimately to insure himself.
As sanctions loomed, he lost political capital, aiming to gain time and favor.
The club owed him £1.5billion in loans and said they would cancel it. He said he would give all profits from the sale of the club (which it was later decided he was not allowed to sell) to ‘all victims of war’ – including families of soldiers Russians killed.
Now he is gone and the legacy of Chelsea FC has been turned upside down.
Was it tolerated? Has he been kissed? The good things coming out of his property were real, even if they were part of a plot to cleanse himself of the Kremlin. These things may have been a by-product of Chelsea being used to improve their image, but trophy success, racism-hunting, community projects and more, have had real tangible business benefits. of Chelsea FC.
When the club launched its ‘Say No to Anti-Semitism’ campaign in 2018, some dismissed it as a publicity stunt. But he raised millions for charities fighting racism, took the team around the world, including to Auschwitz and Israel, as Chelsea put their stars at the forefront of awareness.
This has concrete consequences. There have been countless incidents where Chelsea fans have been expelled from the club for anti-Semitism, racism and even prosecuted in the case of Sam Mole – sentenced to ten years in prison.
Like it or not, Abramovich drove this change. He made it an international brand with an international fanbase; one who cannot afford to have extremism, homophobic or anti-Semitic chants, or Nazi thugs at the games.
But now it has once again become a club mired in controversy and dirty money.
No one will want to take up the torch of their heritage. They will want to reshape the club’s brand as their own image – and that puts much of the progress under Abramovich at risk.