Chelsea, from oligarchy to state intervention | sports

There was a time when Roman Abramovich served as Chelsea’s sporting director de facto. His most personal operation, the one that brought him more disputes with the advisers that made up the technical secretariat, was the signing of Fernando Torres in 2011. Club employees remind him of being restless around the offices, chasing all those who warned him that spending 60 million euros in Torres was a terrible idea. Armed with a laptop, he went in search of the detractors to show them the videos of the last goal of the then Liverpool striker. One day, one of the technicians most critical of Torres was stunned when the Russian —at that time the man with the most liquidity on the planet— looked at him without blinking and serious as a rabbi made a confession: “I started my business by buying a factory Of toys; If I have become rich with that, how can I not know if a footballer is good?

Abramovich never got bored of being the owner of Chelsea but he soon got fed up with the dalliances of sports management and the hardships of daily life at the Stamford Bridge headquarters. He did not take long to appoint a delegate with plenipotentiary powers: Marina Granovskaia, his first partner in the enterprise of manufacturing and selling plastic dolls in the Moscow of Perestroika.

The sporting directors of half of Europe knew her as Dankoby analogy with the character in the film of the same name, the Russian policeman played by Shwarzenegger. More than inflexible, her employees evoke her as someone with an untimely character whose criteria were always as conclusive as they were indecipherable. One day she was flattering a supporter of the club, and the next she acted as if she did not recognize her most venerable interlocutors.

“The organization chart was her,” says an agent who works for Chelsea. Around him sat a swarm of leaders, executives, commission agents and employees —Guy Lawrence, Ray Wilkins or Michael Emenalo among others— who pretended to have great jobs but who in reality dedicated themselves to the easy life earning high salaries without half the pressure. suffered by the officials of clubs such as Manchester United or Liverpool. With a moderate social mass for the Premier, no more than 35,000 subscribers, Chelsea is the third club in London by contribution of internationals to England (52). He is preceded by Tottenham (78) and Arsenal (64). With no media pressure, no pressing environment, no big story to deal with, it was a comfortable destination. Siberian oil money flowed inexhaustibly and crises, if they occurred, were quickly overcome thanks to the climate of tranquility that was breathed around the mandate of Granovskaia, supreme sovereign of the sleepiest corner of a district that has had Virginia among its neighbors Woolf, Margaret Thatcher, Bob Marley or Thomas More.

Nineteen years, five Premiers and two Champions after the arrival of Abramóvich, coinciding with the deployment of Russian troops on the eastern border of Ukraine, at the beginning of February the employees closest to the owner began to observe strange alterations in the provincial ecosystem of the bridge.

Those with friends in the Ministry of Defense received the most alarming calls. They warned them of the convenience of staying away from the club and not using their phones to contact anyone, much less Abramovich’s trusted people. Fear soon spread among all those who had had dealings with the Russian, who had become suspected of espionage by the State. When Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24, Marina Granovskaia and her countrymen disappeared from Stamford Bridge without a trace. Since then, the offices have been taken over by British government officials whose recognized mission is to freeze Abramovich’s assets. Some of these agents respond directly to commissions from Boris Johnson, such as when Downing Street ordered the ban on selling tickets to fans to be lifted or when the first team’s travel budget was increased, because the planned £20,000 was not enough to hire a charter flight, according financial times.

3 billion pounds

On March 12, the Premier, pressured by the Government, pushed Abramóvich to put the club up for sale. The businessman arranged for the American commercial bank Raine to take over the organization of the auction. According to experts, the market value of Chelsea does not exceed 1.5 billion euros. But the auction is inflationary. Led by Todd Boehly, Josh Harris and Tom Ricketts at the head of three groups of US billionaire investors, the bids are close to 3,000 million pounds.

Now the Government faces a contradiction that it cannot easily resolve. His intervention in the club borders on expropriation in a legal regime whose priority continues to be the stimulation of the free market to attract foreign capital. Sources close to Chelsea indicate that the Administration walks the wire. On the one hand, it seeks to show that it is punishing the Russian oligarchs by depriving them of their assets. On the other hand, it promises legal certainty —Abramóvich must charge, at least, a fair value— and moral rigor in the control of the auction, lest the new owners project a worse image than that of the Russian, much loved until now by the fans.

Regarding the succession, the issue most publicized by the newspapers in England has been the confrontation between the fan organizations and the Ricketts family over alleged xenophobic comments by the patriarch Joe, apparently due to incompatibility with the ownership of such a club. integrator. The Guardian, The times and The daily telegraphThey announced that this Saturday at Stanford Bridge there would be a demonstration against the racism of the Ricketts, and this worried the Government. The fact is that the protesters were a minority group – not to say insignificant – among the crowd of 40,000 fans who packed the stadium to see Chelsea lose 1-4 against Brentford. Inside the field they did not hang a banner alluding to the auction. Nor was any repudiation perceived of Abramóvich, the undisputed author of a sunk investment of more than 1,000 million euros in soccer players, when nobody cared that he visited the Kremlin from time to time. People came to the game, drank their pints, sang along without mentioning any conflict, and went home early. About seven in the evening Ifield Road was a desert. Only passers-by were seen walking the dog between the graves of the Brompton cemetery.

Neither Hyundai nor the telecommunications company Three, two of the sponsors, withdrew their logos, as announced. The players also did not stop collecting their salaries, as rumored. More would be missing. “Now the club is protected by the State”, observes a businessman close to the team. It is not only property in the custody of the United Kingdom. Chelsea is, more than ever, a propaganda vehicle in itself.

Tuchel’s anxiety and risk of disbandment of players

If Chelsea succumbed spectacularly (1-4) against the modest Brentford, this Saturday, it was not because the players fear not receiving their salaries, after the government intervention of the club in pursuit of the freezing of Abramovich’s assets. The players have not missed a cent and have the guarantee of the British Government that their contracts will be respected. If Chelsea sank it was not because there was a covert strike but because the squad has been showing signs for months of having lost confidence in Thomas Tuchel. The conflict began when, as soon as he won the Champions League, the coach asked the club to sign Lukaku, without fear of showing his contempt for attackers such as Werner, Havertz or Ziyech, whom he described as immature. Since then, the gaps have not stopped widening without this depriving the coach of his experimental vocation in line-ups like that of Loftus-Cheek, a midfielder, to whom he gave control of the midfield to the detriment of Jorginho.

Chelsea’s institutional crisis has not inhibited the players. On the contrary. It has prompted them to show off, convinced as most are that the new owner of the club will make his own squad and send the coach who comes — Tuchel knows that he will most likely be fired — to give priority to the players who are to come . According to a businessman who works with Chelsea, the agents of Jorginho, Werner and Havertz have warned their clients that the change of ownership threatens their listing. The footballers signed by Abramóvich believe that if they continue next season they will risk going to the bench. With the burden that this entails in the face of future contract renewals, many players are looking for a destination to be transferred and thus keep their professional prestige intact.

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