The Roman empire falls in London

Chelsea's former owner Roman Abramovich applauds the players from the stands of Stamford Bridge in London.Reuters

The writing was already on the wall. The Roman Abramovich era in Chelsea Football Club was certain to come to an end after the Russian oligarch officially put the club up for sale on 2 March. The sale got finalised on 7 May, with a consortium led by US baseball franchise Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly becoming the new gatekeeper of the Stamford Bridge.

This announcement brought an end of Roman’s incredible journey with Chelsea. A club that has been around for over a century and had won every domestic cup in England long before Roman’s arrival. But those successes were few and far in between. Before Roman, Chelsea was a mid-level club that seldom came into the title picture. But all that changed when Roman took charge of the club in 2003.

In the 19 years of the Roman era, Chelsea won 21 trophies in total. They have been crowned kings of Europe twice and champions of England five times. Roman transformed a club riddled with debt into an empire to marvel at.

And this 19 year journey began with a gamble Roman took almost two decades back.

The beginnings

Roman Abramovich turned a lot of heads when he bought Chelsea for £140 million. It was the most expensive purchase in the history of English club football. But buying Chelsea was not a straight-forward decision for Roman, or a pragmatic one.

At that time, the 36-year-old Roman was thriving in the Russian oil business and was the second richest man in Russia. By his own admission, he wanted ‘a new challenge.’ Roman wanted to invest in English club football, but Chelsea wasn’t his first choice.

Roman first considered investing in the biggest name in English football at that time, Manchester United. There are whispers that he went to the Old Trafford, Manchester’s den, to watch the club play against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal in 2003. But the talks didn’t go too far. Later he also considered buying Portsmouth before dropping that idea too.

Finally, it came down between Chelsea and another London-based club Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich applauds fans after winning the Premier League in Stamford Bridge, London on 21 May 2017।
Reuters file photo

Abramovich then consulted Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former England national team coach, about which club he should purchase. The Swedish coach nudged him towards Chelsea’s direction by saying, “I said if you want to win the league then Chelsea - because you only have to change half the team. At that time with Tottenham maybe you would have had to change the whole team.”

Initial success

In Roman’s first season in charge, Chelsea finished second in Premier League under Claudio Ranieri. But second place wasn’t good enough for Roman after spending over £100m in player transfers in his first year at the helm. So, Ranieri became the first of the long list coaches to lose their job in Chelsea after failing to quench Roman’s thirst for silverware.

He replaced Ranieri with Jose Mourinho. The Portugese coach had just won the Champions League with Porto, a club without any star players or the financial backing of big clubs. Roman handpicked him to implement his vision. Mourinho then built a team that won Chelsea its first Premier League title since the 1954-54 season. Chelsea didn’t stop there, as the next season they repeated the feat and won their second league title in a row.

Jose Mourinho at the Chelsea dugout

The Stamford Bridge became a fortress as Chelsea didn’t lose a single game at home from March 2004 to October 2008.

The revolving door of coaches

Roman’s approach to appointing and sacking coaches was always the same. If the team doesn’t bring in trophies, the coach will be sacked. After Ranieri, Mourinho lasted for three and a half seasons before mutually parting ways midway through the 2007-08 season.

The same season, Chelsea played the final of the UEFA Champions League under Avram Grant. But three days after Chelsea lost the final on penalties, he was sacked. Chelsea hired and six head coaches in the next five years before once again appointing Mourinho.

Between Mourinho’s first and second tenure in Chelsea, the club won one Premier League title, three FA Cup trophies, a Community Shield Trophy and their first ever European Champions League trophy. But none of the coaches could appease Roman.

Mourinho’s second tenure also ended two and a half seasons later in 2015. This time he won the league title once, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy Roman.

Chelsea's Ivorian forward Didier Drogba, one of the star players of Mourinho's Chelsea.

In the seven years after Mourinho’s departure, Chelsea have had six different managers. In total, in the 19 years under Roman, Chelsea have had 14 different people in the manager’s chair.

It’s easy to criticise Roman’s approach towards coaches, but no one can dispute the results it brought.

The achievements

Roman in total has spent £2.1 billion in player transfers in 19 years and his astronomical investments have bore fruit. Chelsea have won 21 titles under Roman. The club won every domestic title in England, won the English Premier League five times, won the UEFA Champions League trophy for the first time in the club’s history in 2012 and repeated the feat in 2021 and also won the FIFA Club World Cup Trophy once.

Chelsea players celebrate with trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League title on 29 May 2021

The success wasn’t limited to only the men’s team. Chelsea women’s team has also become a powerhouse in Europe in the Roman era. Chelsea women’s team was an amateur club till 2013. But in the last nine years, Chelsea have won the women’s league cup twice, FA Cup thrice and the UEFA Super League four times.

The end of fairytale

Till 24 February, 2022, all was well in Roman’s Chelsea. The team was competing for every title, they were the Champions League cup holders and the fans were firmly behind the team and happy with the management. But as soon as the Russian troops marched into Ukraine, dark clouds started hovering over Roman’s ownership in Chelsea.

Roman’s ties with the Russian president Vladimir Putin are well known and he is said to have made most of his riches through this friendship. This friendship ultimately brought his downfall.

Roman tried to preserve his ownership by giving the club’s stewardship to the club’s charitable foundation on 26 February. But that wasn’t enough. Roman had to announce that he would sell the club, just days before the British government froze all of his assets in the country.


Chelsea released a statement on 2 March, announcing that Roman will be selling the club. In the statement he said, “This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and Club.”

To prove his statement, he said he won’t take the £1.5 billion he is owed by the club. Furthermore, he will set up a charitable foundation to help the victims of the war in Ukraine.

Chelsea's former owner Roman Abramovich

Although Roman’s era ends in Chelsea in controversy, his 19 years as the owner of Chelsea has changed the club football world forever. He was the first billionaire to invest heavily in British football. After him, clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle United also got billionaire owners.

But none of the other owners have enjoyed the success Roman has with Chelsea. The main reason behind this was Roman’s love for the club. Fans of clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal have time and again raised their voices against the owners, accused them of ignoring the fans and even held demonstrations to oust them from their club. But Chelsea fans have no such complaints against their ‘gaffer’.

From the beginning till the end, Roman Abramovich has maintained that this was never business for him. Even while selling the club, he added clauses that bars the new owners from bringing in any profits from the club in the first 10 years of their ownership and made them pledge to invest £1.75 billion to construct a new stadium and improve facilities, something he was planning to do next. With these steps, Roman tried to safeguard Chelsea’s future and ensure that Chelsea will continue to flourish even without him.