“I understand some fans have only known Roman Abramovich, but the majority of fans were here before – we went through so much before he joined us and will be here after him.”
Chelsea fan Ann Amies, a season-ticket holder, summed up the defiance on show among Chelsea players, management and fans as the club come to terms with their very future being under threat after 117 years of existence.
This has been a week like no other for Chelsea. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, their owner and financer for 19 years, on Thursday was sanctioned by the UK government as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All his UK assets, including the football club, were frozen.
Chelsea’s 1-0 win against Newcastle on Sunday, at first glance, was just another normal Premier League afternoon. Yet while there was a great deal of familiarity about the occasion, this was the home of a club where things won’t be the same again.
Some things hadn’t changed. The Roman Empire banner – celebrating the man whose finances helped bring in 21 trophies, including five Premier Leagues and two Champions League titles, during the most successful period in the club’s history – still hung in the Matthew Harding stand.
The ‘Roman Abramovich’ chant rang out in the 65th minute of the game – not for long and not by many, but it was unmistakable – while communications company Three still had their logo on the kit and pitchside hoardings, despite suspending its sponsorship deal.
But if you looked a bit harder, you could see a few signs that things weren’t right. The club shop was shut as part of the restrictions; those that would normally buy a programme had to do without.
Boss Thomas Tuchel even joked he would be willing to “drive a seven-seater” to help the team reach the far-flung destination of Lille in northern France for their Champions League last-16 second-leg tie in midweek after a £20 000 cap was placed on his side’s travelling arrangements.
With a £28m player monthly wage bill, a squeezing of the income can only be sustained for so long before it becomes untenable.
A sale of the club is currently on hold under the government-imposed restrictions – a move intended to stop Abramovich from benefiting financially. But without a sale, things could get tough, quickly. How bad it will get, nobody knows.
We do know the sanctions on Abramovich will impact every part of Chelsea, from top to bottom. Wages, transfers, contracts, sponsors, the number of fans in the stands, the non-playing staff and even how players travel to matches. (BBC)