Beware Roman's Riches; as Lord Burns's Report Reveals the Weakness of Soccer's Governing Body, Who Can Save Our National Game from the Man Whose Wealth Now Dominates It?

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 10, 2005 | Go to article overview

Beware Roman's Riches; as Lord Burns's Report Reveals the Weakness of Soccer's Governing Body, Who Can Save Our National Game from the Man Whose Wealth Now Dominates It?


Byline: CHRIS BLACKHURST

THERE is a story doing the rounds about how Roman Abramovich wanted a house near his football club. Not just any old house, you understand, but a grand, spectacular affair in prestigious Eaton Square. Thing was, the owner, a well-known company boss, hadn't even put his home on the market.

Such a detail didn't stop the Abramoviches. The businessman was rung up and asked if he would mind if Irina Abramovich and three companions came round for a look.

Bemused, he shrugged and let them tour. Later, his phone went. She liked the house and its art collection so much that she would take them, for [pounds sterling]40 million. He said they weren't for sale.

A few days later, he was called again. Would he accept [pounds sterling]60 million? Same negative answer. Some time went by.

The phone went again. The Russians wanted to make him an offer he couldn't refuse: [pounds sterling]100 million. Exasperated, he told the Abramoviches' representative that there had clearly been a misunderstanding: he loved living there and had no intention of moving, not even for [pounds sterling]100 million (he is extremely wealthy).

He thinks they've gone away but he isn't sure. As he says, they have a problem understanding one of the most basic words in the English language: "no".

Whenever this story is told - and I have heard something very similar now several times - listeners nod their heads. No matter if it's true or not.

They can just imagine the billionaire football boss behaving in such a fashion. After all, he's been doing the same in the Premiership for the past two seasons, and in the process he is destroying our national game.

It may seem excessive to accuse one man of ruining the pleasure of millions but that is the effect Abramovich is having.

His vast resources are strangling the life out of soccer. Not content to wield an almighty chequebook, he and those around him have thrown the rules of normal decency out of the window, not just the actual code governing the hiring of players and managers but the spirit that surrounds them.

And it's all being done with a gracelessness that even by the standards of professional football is breathtaking.

MONEY me n throwing their vast egos around in the name of sport isn't new.

But what sets Abramovich and his henchmen apart is their ruthless determination - and their contempt for the laws, published and unpublished, that bind.

As far as the internal affairs of Chelsea are concerned, Abramovich is entitled to do as he chooses. So when the team's popular manager, Claudio Ranieri, fails to deliver the Premiership by finishing second and is sacked, that is the Russian's business. Likewise, if he chooses to replace Ranieri with the brilliant but occasionally preposterous Jose Mourinho, that's his affair.

Similarly, the snaffling of Peter Kenyon, the hardball commercial brain from Manchvintage-ester United, is his call. And if he wants to spend hundreds of millions on acquiring the best players, that's down to him too.

It doesn't help that much of this occurs without charm or concern for others. Chelsea think they can get more money out of their kit sponsors so they terminate their contract.

Chelsea want Scott Parker, a revered and valued figure at a comparatively small club, Charlton, so they get him - and then choose not to play him.

After Ranieri and before Mourinho, Abramovich thought he'd like to recruit Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England coach.

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