Statue or shame? How should football remember Roman Abramovich’s time at Chelsea?


Roman Abramovich’s 19 years as owner of Chelsea Football Club are coming to an end. The impact he has had on the club’s results on the pitch cannot be overstated. He took over a team that had only won one league title in its history. Five more Premier League titles were won under his leadership. Not to mention two Champions League trophies, eight domestic cups and two Europa League victories. Trophies were in short supply when Abramovich first came to Stamford Bridge. Today they are mandatory.

But in recent months Abramovich’s ownership of the club has become complicated. Alleged links between the oligarch and Russian President Vladimir Putin have come under scrutiny. After Russia invaded Ukraine, Abramovich’s ties to the regime drew sanctions from the British government. His reputation was tarnished, necessitating the sale of the club.

Funds from the £4.25 billion sale to Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital will not benefit Abramovich and will instead be placed by the government in a fund for charitable distributions to victims of the Russian invasion. But money is black and white. It can be moved and it can be invested. Reputations are more difficult to manipulate. Despite all the criticism Abramovich has come under due to his links to Putin, some of the Chelsea supporters are ready to defend him.

“#ThankYouRoman” has been tweeted numerous times since the Boehly purchase was confirmed. Chelsea influencer Astrid Wett’s tweet calling for a statue of Abramovich to be erected in front of Stamford Bridge garnered over 4,000 likes. She wasn’t the only one to make this suggestion and receive hundreds of positive responses for doing so. Part of the Chelsea fans are very grateful for the Roman Abramovich years and consider him a hero despite the realities of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Football fans are increasingly being asked to face moral dilemmas as part of their experience. Manchester City and Newcastle United fans cannot escape the specter of human rights abusers who own their respective clubs. Magpies boss Eddie Howe has at least been asked the question, but despite all the praise for City and Pep Guardiola, so much is swept under the rug at the Etihad that it’s impossible to enter the home without tripping over an inconvenient truth.

Now it’s the turn of Chelsea fans to be confronted with the actions of their outgoing owner. For some diehard Blues, they’re probably grateful that Abramovich is going, taking his toxic baggage with him. But others go to great lengths to worship him, even in the face of harrowing daily dispatches on the war in Ukraine. Football fans are not politicians or thought leaders, nor can they be expected to tailor their opinions to social acceptability. But at the same time, no trophy is worth a life and, despite Chelsea’s golden age under Abramovich’s stewardship, a statue seems insensitive.

Like it or not, Abramovich’s time at Chelsea will always carry an asterisk. The way it ended will always serve as an epilogue to the joyful trophy lifting and pomp of Bridge heroes like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry. No one can dispute that Abramovich was an efficient football club owner, and Chelsea supporters certainly cannot be blamed for looking back on this period with fondness. They have seen their club grow from a mid-table cup team to a European giant. Any fan would rejoice in such a journey. But maybe it’s time to stop idolizing the man who funded it.


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