The billionaire, who reportedly has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has so far not been included in a growing list of British sanctions targeting pro-Kremlin Russian banks, businesses and tycoons following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But the 55-year-old has decided that selling Chelsea is in the best interest of the club, the fans and the employees.
The Chelsea Abramovich is leaving is radically different from the club he bought in 2003 for just £140 million ($187 million) at a time when Manchester United and Arsenal were the dominant forces in the Premier League.
The club was transformed from one teetering on the brink of a financial crisis into one of the Premier League’s richest thanks to the deep pockets of the Russian, who routinely bankrolled blockbuster transfers.
He has been rewarded with a staggering 19 major trophies in his 19-year reign, changing the face of English and European football.
Abramovich’s arrival at Stamford Bridge also set a trend for a wave of foreign investment in the Premier League.
Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are owned by Americans, Manchester City has won five of the last 10 titles thanks to backing from Abu Dhabi, while Newcastle is now financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
One of Abramovich’s first masterpieces was bringing in José Mourinho as manager to replace Claudio Ranieri in 2004.
The self-styled ‘Special One’, fresh from Champions League triumph with Porto, clinched their first league championship since 1955 in their first season and repeated the feat in 2006.
The Portuguese departed in 2007 but, despite frequent changes in management, the trophies kept coming as the Blues disproved the idea that stability breeds success.
A total of 13 men have managed the club in the last 19 years, with Mourinho and Guus Hiddink doing so twice.
Little-known Roberto Di Matteo succeeded where big-name managers Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti failed by winning the club’s first Champions League with an aging squad in 2012.
Even then, the Italian was sacked three months into the following season.
Mourinho’s two spells represent half of Chelsea’s six league titles in their history, but Abramovich twice decided to part ways with the Portuguese.
The same fate befell the club’s all-time top scorer Frank Lampard last year, but the Russian’s ruthless approach continued to pay off.
Within four months of succeeding Lampard, Thomas Tuchel was celebrating the club’s second Champions League title on the pitch with Abramovich in Porto last year.
Tuchel’s admission that it was the first time the pair had met underscored the hands-off approach Abramovich took to the day-to-day running of the club.
Director Marina Granovskaia, a close ally of the owner, took the lead in recruiting players and coaches.
But the Russian’s wealth, estimated by Forbes on Wednesday at $12.4 billion, underpinned two decades of almost uninterrupted success.
Abramovich has said he will not claim the £1.5bn worth of loans owed to him by the club and will donate all the net proceeds from the sale of Chelsea to victims of the war in Ukraine.
The decision not to ask for the loans to be repaid should increase interest in a club now established among European football’s elite.
But it will take a lot of money to come close to replicating the success Chelsea fans have grown accustomed to.
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