Who is Roman Abramovich? Russian billionaire and Chelsea owner sells club after Ukraine invasion

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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is making global headlines following his decision to put the prominent English club up for sale amid speculation over his status in the UK given potential sanctions.

The 55-year-old has been notoriously secretive throughout his time in charge of the Blues, hardly ever speaking out in public despite his club’s notoriety. Instead, Abramovich has opted to let others speak for him over the years, with board members, executive staff, and management personnel all taking on a more public role.

Yet his influence in English and European football remains considerable, and his wealth and oversight have seen a massive increase in the fortunes of Chelsea and the Premier League as a whole.

Below is an introduction to who Roman Abramovich is, his past at Chelsea and why he is stepping down from Chelsea, and potentially further investments in the UK.

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Who is Roman Abramovich?

Born in 1966 in Saratov, Russia, a major port city in the southwest of the country, Abramovich is a Russian billionaire, best known for his role as owner of Premier League club Chelsea.

Abramovich acquired his wealth through various investments and is known for his ability to buy and sell businesses and various assets for profit.

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The 55-year-old has made friends in high places during his career, best known for his friendships with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and current President Vladimir Putin, although his camp has denied links with Putin in the past.

For a time during Yeltsin’s presidency, Abramovich lived in an apartment inside the Kremlin at Yeltsin’s request. Based on Richard Sakwa’s 2019 book The crisis of Russian democracyit was Abramovich who first identified to Yeltsin that Putin should be his successor.

According to Forbes in 2019, Abramovich’s net worth was around $12.9 billion, making him the 11th richest person in Russia.

Abramovich has had his fair share of issues over the years. In 2008, The Times reported that he had paid billions of dollars in political bribes and protection fees in exchange for shares in Russia’s oil and aluminum assets, according to court documents.

He has also had run-ins with Russia’s Antimonopoly Service, while his stakes in various companies in the steel, coal mining and natural gas sectors have seen Ambramovich clash with climate change groups. .

When did Roman Abramovich buy Chelsea?

Roman Abramovich first took ownership of Chelsea FC in June 2003. Through a 100% stake in British holding company Fordstam Limited, Abramovich bought the club from Ken Bates, who in turn bought Leeds United.

Since taking over, Chelsea have won 18 trophies, including two Champions League titles, five Premier League championships and, most recently, the 2022 Club World Cup.

Abramovich’s massive investment in the club made Chelsea a perennial world power, but it cost the club dearly. Chelsea owe a monstrous $2 billion in debt to Abramovich, according to a report from Front Office Sports.

Reports vary, but the initial consensus is that he is seeking a minimum of $2.5 billion for the club, although that figure has risen to $4 billion based on recent updates.

The Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea

During Abramovich’s reign, Chelsea became a perennial European and global powerhouse in club football.

Since Abramovich took over the club in 2003, Chelsea have finished in the top four of the Premier League table in all but three seasons. Moreover, the club collected 18 major trophies during his tenure, including two Champions League titles.

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The Russian billionaire is known for his quick trigger finger when it comes to managers, with Chelsea having 14 different managers in his 19 years in charge (including one stint by Rafa Benitez and two by Guus Hiddink with the ‘interim’ label) . The longest-serving manager under Abramovich’s reign was Jose Mourinho, whose three seasons between 2004 and 2007 still represent the longest span for any manager with Abramovich as boss.

Abramovich’s ownership of the club has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks as the international community tries to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. One step taken was to sanction Russian oligarchs with influence and power in the Kremlin, which Abramovich certainly qualifies as.

He has yet to be targeted, although the quick sale of Chelsea that would be sought could be an indication that a freeze on his UK-based assets could be imminent as political pressure mounts:

Questions about the wartime situation and Abramovich’s involvement began to test the club, with manager Thomas Tuchel admitting the situation was “distracting” in late February before growing increasingly frustrated with repeated questioning during of a press conference at the beginning of March.

Why is Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea?

With multiple reports that Abramovich is looking to reduce his presence in Western Europe with possible sanctions on the horizon, the Chelsea owner has decided to sell the club “in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as club sponsors and partners.”

Abramovich first tried to steer the club away from its troubles in late February when he announced he would be handing over the “custody and care” of the club to the trustees of the Chelsea Foundation, but the brief and vague statement did not go unnoticed. only raised more questions than it answered. And the administrators weren’t necessarily willing to take on that responsibility.

A few days later he announced he was selling and despite the high price there are willing bidders, who are urged to submit their bids quickly.

Whether Abramovich will get the price he is looking for or whether he will settle for one of the offers in an effort to execute a quick sale remains to be seen.

According to the latest Forbes valuation, Chelsea were worth $3.2 billion in 2021, up from $760 million in 2012.

Will Roman Abramovich be sanctioned?

Abramovich has not yet been sanctioned by the US or UK government, at least based on publicly shared information. However, this scenario could be on the horizon.

Not only has Abramovich taken steps to sell Chelsea, but he is also looking to sell his properties in the UK, according to a UK government official.

These moves indicate that Abramovich may seek to leave the country quickly and escape potential losses of significant holdings if his assets are frozen in the near future.

“He [Abramovich] is terrified of being punished,” said the aforementioned UK government official, Labor MP Chris Bryant.

The British government has announced a list of “120 businesses and oligarchs” who are the target of new financial restrictions triggered as part of massive sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, according to UK reports, only a few people have so far seen sanctions actually enacted against them, with most of those on the list yet to be officially targeted.

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