MATT BARLOW: Roman Abramovich remains cloaked in secrecy

MATT BARLOW: Roman Abramovich remains cloaked in secrecy… no one outside his inner circle will know whether Chelsea are for sale until the next cold and clinical statement is released

  • Roman Abramovich remains distant, mostly silent and cloaked in secrecy 
  • Abramovich’s statement about him stepping away was typically brief
  • No one will know if Chelsea are for sale until the next cold, clinical statement  

Nineteen years have passed since he descended upon Chelsea and transformed the landscape of English football and yet Roman Abramovich remains distant, mostly silent and cloaked in secrecy.

He has given virtually none of himself to public scrutiny from his takeover at Stamford Bridge in 2003 to Saturday evening, when he issued a statement to say he was placing stewardship of the club into the hands of trustees.

It was characteristically brief and low on detail, as is ever the case with Abramovich, a man who rarely utters a word in public and, if he does, it comes in this fashion, through a cold and carefully scripted corporate release, often in tandem with one of the good causes he is backing with his billions. Whether that be to help the NHS during the pandemic with access to his hotels or championing the fight against anti-Semitism.

Roman Abramovich’s statement about giving up stewardship of Chelsea was typically brief

There were times, in the early days of his ownership, when players and coaches were courted on one of his super yachts and photographs snatched by the long lenses of the paparazzi but this practice was quickly ended. As was the temporary direct line of communication from some the senior players in the dressing room to the owner.

In fact, Abramovich has never been more remote at a time when Chelsea, now the reigning world and European champions, have never been more prestigious.

Earlier this month, he was in Abu Dhabi to see his team win the Club World Cup for the first time and was on the pitch with his hands on the trophy, grinning like any proud owner might. 

Abramovich saw Chelsea win the Club World Cup but he sees fewer games than ever now

Abramovich (pictured in 2016) vigorously maintains his independence from Russian President Vladimir Putin  

It was a rare opportunity for the 55-year-old Russian see them in the flesh. He has not been resident in the UK since he withdrew a visa renewal application in 2018 and, although he has an Israeli passport and is able to visit, his time in London has become very limited.

He sees fewer games than ever and, while no one doubts he makes the big decisions, he leaves the day-to-day affairs to directors Marina Granovskaia, Eugene Tenenbaum and chairman Bruce Buck. Thomas Tuchel was appointed last year without even meeting Abramovich until the morning after Chelsea won the Champions League.

On the eve of another showpiece, the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, came another bolt form the blue.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel shared his concerns about the perception of the club

No one outside Abramovich’s circle will know about his Chelsea plans until the next statement

Perhaps, with hindsight, it was signposted by Tuchel’s public comments on Friday, in a briefing with daily newspapers, where he shared his concerns about perceptions of Chelsea, the only Premier League club wholly owned by a Russian oligarch at a time when Vladimir Putin was waging war in Ukraine.

Abramovich, who vigorously insists he is independent of Putin, has been named by MPs during debates about possible retaliatory sanctions against Russia, including seizing the assets of its oligarchs.

By handing the club’s charitable foundation the ‘stewardship and care’ of the club perhaps he is trying to allay his manager and players who are suddenly uneasy about the source of their wealth, or who could be the targets of anti-Russian sentiment in sporting arenas.

Perhaps Abramovich fears sanctions are afoot and this helps him and his club in some way and maybe this is one more step towards selling the club. There has been specuation it is available at the right price for some time and there have been denials.

No one outside Abramovich’s inner circle will really know until the next cold and clinical statement is released. Until then, he will be calling the shots from afar.

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