Roman Abramovich's win-at-all-cost approach is long gone at Chelsea

It’s a YEAR since Roman Abramovich was forced to put Chelsea up for sale, but out with the ruthless Russian went the fabric of their success. It’s been one disaster after another under Todd Boehly

  • Roman Abramovich was forced to put Chelsea up for sale on this day last year
  • The Russian departed after being sanctioned when his country invaded Ukraine
  • One year after being put up for sale, Chelsea are a shadow of their former selves 

Little did Chelsea fans know it, but when Russian president Vladimir Putin launched a full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 the course of history at their club was altered forever.

It was on this day last year that Roman Abramovich sensationally put the Blues up for sale after close to two decades as owner, an astonishing response to the sanctions imposed on him by the UK Government in light of his country’s actions one month earlier.

After alleging that he maintained ties to Putin, Downing Street subsequently froze the entirety of Abramovich’s UK assets, including Chelsea, forcing him to engineer a swift exit and wave goodbye to the club in circumstances he would never have dreamed of.

‘I would like to address the speculation in media over the past few days in relation to my ownership of Chelsea FC,’ the Russian said in a statement on March 2, 2022.

‘As I have stated before, I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the Club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners.’

Roman Abramovich (pictured) was forced to put Chelsea up for sale on this very day in 2022

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in UK sanctions being imposed on Abramovich

Abramovich had no choice but to call time on his trophy-laden 18 years as Blues owner

While the crisis in Ukraine was undoubtedly of greater importance, Abramovich’s exit marked a watershed moment for Chelsea as the unique, ruthless boom-and-bust approach which contributed to the most successful period in their history came to an abrupt end after 18 years.

Unlike the majority of their Big Six rivals, in Abramovich the west London club had an owner who cared little about the figures on his balance sheet and more about the trophies in his cabinet. He burned through money and managers at a relentless pace to win the game’s big prizes. That was always his motivation.

A Premier League title had evaded him for almost five years, with Antonio Conte’s 2016-17 champions still the last Chelsea team to capture one, though in what proved his final full season as owner we saw Abramovich at his absolute brutal best; first pulling the trigger on club legend Frank Lampard to the despair of supporters, before winning the Champions League four months later after replacing him with Thomas Tuchel.

That rollercoaster end to the season perfectly encapsulated his reign at Stamford Bridge. Many key decisions over the years appeared to make little sense at the time, and there are some even Abramovich himself may still regret – particularly sacking Carlo Ancelotti in 2011 – yet no one could dispute this savage strategy given it brought so much success.

With that being said, even in Lampard’s case the Saratov-born oligarch had shown greater patience than he perhaps would have afforded a manager in his prime axe-wielding days. Maurizio Sarri somehow survived a number of humiliating setbacks before him too.

The final box for Abramovich to tick was long-term stability at managerial level and in Tuchel, a proven elite-level coach who enjoyed a strong relationship with his right-hand woman Marina Granovskaia, he appeared to have finally found the answer.

Before his shock departure, the season which followed Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in Porto was by no means smooth-sailing. The £97.5million acquisition of Romelu Lukaku proved a disaster on many levels, while an unfortunate blend of Covid and injury woes derailed their potential title bid as early as January. 

The Russian’s last full season summed up his brutal strategy, with Frank Lampard first sacked

His replacement, Thomas Tuchel, then guided the Blues to Champions League glory that year

Marina Granovskaia (L) and Petr Cech (R) were singing from the same hymn sheet as Tuchel

Yet, despite all of the above and the club later being placed under sanctions along with Abramovich, Tuchel still managed to guide Chelsea to FA Cup and League Cup finals that season, losing both to Liverpool only via the lottery of penalty kicks. Third-place was also sealed, while they crashed out of the Champions League with their heads held high after one of the most breathtaking away performances ever seen in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid.

Imagine what he could have achieved in better circumstances?

With Tuchel steering the ship, Granovskaia pulling the strings and Abramovich calling the shots, the future looked bright for Chelsea in their quest for a more settled long-term project. 

That’s not to say the previous leadership model were flawless or immune to criticism. The decision to spend nearly £100million on Lukaku with a striker of Erling Haaland’s calibre available was a blunder. Loaning Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid proved unsuccessful – and there are even more transfer failures to pick out when you go further through the years. 

Nevertheless, the main difference was that perhaps for the first time in Abramovich’s era – aside from the rosier days of Lampard’s tenure – key figures at board and managerial level seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet, and if that remained the case Tuchel would have been set up for a more rewarding second full season.

Under Tuchel, Chelsea had the chance to finally build a long-term project for Abramovich

Amid difficult circumstances the German guided them to two cup finals last season, losing both only via the lottery of penalty kicks against Liverpool

Of course, that would still have been a big if given Abramovich’s track record, and Putin’s subsequent invasion of Ukraine and the sanctioning of Abramovich soon brought all of that crashing down. Within two months of being put up for sale, Chelsea had a new owner in American businessman Todd Boehly and the Russian was officially out the door.

Boehly wasted little time in undergoing a mass clear-out at Stamford Bridge, moving on Granovskaia and technical director Petr Cech in June, as well as long-time chairman Bruce Buck.

Antonio Rudiger, one of the best defenders in European football, departed on a free transfer having agreed a move to Real Madrid when sanctions placed on the club prevented him from signing a new contract.

And after embarking on a frantic, scattergun spend-up in the summer transfer window, inspired by his own limited football knowledge with no directors in place, Boehly completed his Blues revamp by taking a leaf out of his predecessor’s book and dismissing Tuchel.

Fast forward six months from that earth-shattering decision and the Chelsea of old, the relentless, cold-blooded winning machine of Abramovich’s ownership, are already long gone.

Now under Todd Boehly, Chelsea are no longer the relentless winning machine of old

Graham Potter is being afforded unfamiliar patience amid a disastrous run of form this season

Abramovich would never have hired a coach of Potter’s ilk if he was still pulling the strings

Under Graham Potter, a name Abramovich would never have entertained when searching for a new coach, Boehly’s Chelsea are 10th in the Premier League with one win to show for their last 11 games and as many goals in their last six.

While he did rack up an unprecedented £300million transfer bill in January, winning at all costs has made way for a long-term plan which could take years to fulfil under Boehly, and there are question marks over whether he has the right man leading it.

If Abramovich was still in town, Potter would almost certainly remain Brighton manager and Tuchel, with the help of Granovskaia and Cech, would have been free to plot a more bulletproof title challenge in his second full season at the helm.

Now, in his absence, Chelsea supporters may have to wait quite some time to see them competing at the summit again.

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