Flushed Owner Will Spend Pennies Wisely at Chelsea

By Thomas, David | The Evening Standard (London, England), July 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

Flushed Owner Will Spend Pennies Wisely at Chelsea


Thomas, David, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: DAVID THOMAS

LOOK on the bright side, non-Blues. Even Roman Abramovich isn't the richest man in Russia. So there could be another ex-Soviet zillionaire, just waiting to snap up Tottenham or Arsenal.

Mind you, they'd be taking a deal that Abramovich has already turned down.

He is said to have looked at the Gunners and concluded - as I've been suggesting for months - that the Ashburton Grove project is too risky to touch.

According to reports in the weekend's business pages, he was also driven away from Spurs by the [pounds sterling]50million ENIC's Daniel Levy was asking for a 29 per cent stake.

Billionaires tend not to be suckers.

And that is a point worth bearing in mind, when thinking about what might happen at Stamford Bridge.

The day Abramovich's arrival was announced, everyone assumed Chelsea would now move for Scott Parker and Joe Cole.

Within hours, though, the stakes were raised with reports that the Russian mega-magnate had his eyes on Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Patrick Kluivert and goodness knows who else.

The truth is, no one really knows what Abramovich's plans are, except the man himself. And he doesn't seem the talkative type. So what can those of us on the outside deduce for ourselves?

Clearly this is a man with deeper pockets than anyone else in English football history. He makes Jack Walker and Mohamed Fayed look like street urchins in comparison.

If Abramovich decides that money is no object, he could change the entire ecology of Premiership football, paying transfer fees and wages which not even Manchester United could match.

He could go head-to-head with Real Madrid for the priciest players in the world. But will Abramovich choose that route?

Until last week, Chelsea were in serious financial difficulties, carrying a vast burden of debt.

Abramovich can solve the debt crisis, but the fundamentals of the business will remain the same: a 42,500-seat ground and an international profile that still lingers behind the giants of Manchester and Madrid. Why would he want to pile massive additional costs onto a structure that has already been proven to be weak?

You could argue that Abramovich can power Chelsea into a new financial league. He's certainly paid out big-time on his hockey team in Omsk, luring top players to the bleak wastelands of Siberia with offers they could not refuse. If he can get big names to Siberia, he won't have any trouble bringing them to Fulham Broadway.

But I've never met a rich man who likes paying over the odds. In business, Abramovich buys low and sells high. If those Tottenham reports are accurate, he's not willing to spend a penny more than he has to in football, either.

The game is slowly restoring a degree of financial sanity. Clubs are keeping their wallets shut.

Desperate agents may see Abramovich as a man they can fleece for big bucks that aren't on offer elsewhere. But where's his percentage in being the biggest sucker in town? …

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