ROMAN HOLIDAY?

By Jak Riley
Jul 3rd, 2003

The recent take-over of Chelsea by Russian oil and aluminium tycoon Roman Abramovich on the surface seem like us fans like we have just won the lottery. £200m million being pumped into the club and the strait jacket of our recent debts have been removed. Every other press article say Roman will buy us a Real Madrid style dream team and win us the Premiership and European cup in the none to distant future. The club are also telling us that we are the envy of every other supporter in the land if not Europe.

Pretty heady stuff. It’s nigh on impossible not to get carried away by a surging tide of optimism when such boasts are being made. But maybe it’s just my natural pessimism that keeps the phrase “All that glitters is not gold” running round my head.

Can it really be that Chelsea has just been bought by Father Christmas? Are all our dreams and ambitions about to be realised? Are we really that dammed lucky? I have a suspicion we might just have been.

But again to my natural pessimism. As is the case with any change of power, be it in sport, business or politics, only time will tell if the promises that are being made will be lived up to.

Roman has reportedly taken on our £90m debt, will throw £20m at a new training ground and make a further £30m available for transfers. All on top of the £60m to take 100% control of Chelsea Village.

My first thought is that NOBODY throws money like that around with out expecting something back in return. But with a personal fortune estimated to be roughly £3.8 BILLION this really is the equivalent of buying a round of drinks for you pals on a Friday night. As Ken put it “chump change”. Even so, £200m and nothing expected in return?

The PR is telling us that the return is mere cachet among his business and political associates. It’s got to be good to fly an associate to London, put them up in a hotel in the centre of town and then watch the best, start studded, team in Europe clinch another Premier League title. Which is very good short-term news for us if it’s the case.

But if that’s true what about when he gets board, football is no longer fashionable and wealthy businessmen turn their attentions to cricket or rugby teams or whatever the latest fad is? Where would that leave Chelsea? More importantly what would be left for the new owners?

Would Roman sell the best players, the hotel, the health and nightclubs, pocket the cash and sell the remaining crap on the cheap to the highest bidder? Probably not as the whole of most clubs are worth more than the sum of their parts. It would net him more cash to sell a Madrid style success than an asset stripped Wimbledon.

The real area of concern is the way in which his many, many millions will be given to the club. Will it be a strait hand out or will he be lending the money to the club? Part of the current financial strife we were in at the
beginning of the week was due to the fact that we had to pay back £5m to the Matthew Harding estate after he ‘invested’ the money in the club so we could build the North Stand.

Will Roman similarly loan us ‘investment’? If so when he ups and leaves we will probably owe him significantly more than the £90m we so recently owed that, if reports are true, nearly drove us into administration.

His people have also released a statement saying he bought Chelsea “to have fun”. I dislike the feeling that something I hold so dear is just some rich mans plaything. Will he use and abuse the club I’ve supported all my life and have invested so much emotion in? Or will he treat it with the respect and reverence it deserves? More than likely the latter.

But we have evidence so very close to home of what happens when the rich get board. Now Al Fayed has realised that owning a football club still wont get him a passport he is running the club from exile and The Flumps look like getting their own exile into oblivion. No ground, crap team, crap fans.

Fortunate the Chelsea Pitch owners own the stadium and pitch so Roman can’t make a mint on the ground ala Comical Al but what if at some point he decides to get rid of Chelsea? Will he try to recoup his investment? In which case we’ll be in big trouble. Or will he just write it off and move to something new? Which he is more than capable of doing with out feeling the financial pinch?

Whatever Romans level of commitment to the cause his oil and aluminium wealth makes the short-term future look very blue indeed and only time will tell if the future stays blue or turns black. So remember “All that glitters is not gold”. But what if its aluminium?

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