Making history, Not reliving it (August 2003)
After Roman Abramovich purchased the club, the buzz amongst the Chelsea supporters was amazing. It had been quite widely known that the club was in severe financial trouble and, up until the point when Bates sold out to the Russian, in danger of going out of business. It was clear that Chelsea’s new owner meant business when, upon hearing that Bates had sold Chelsea hero Gianfranco Zola to Cagliari the day before he purchased the club, he made a bid to buy the Sardinian side in order that Zola would then be lent back to Chelsea. However, being a true man of honour, even if Abramovich had managed to purchase the Serie B side, Zola would not have stayed at Chelsea after pledging to help Cagliari get promoted. With the Italian having departed, one of the first changes that took place ‘behind the scenes’ at Stamford Bridge was the removal of Trevor Birch, an insolvency expert who had been brought in by Bates to try to keep the club afloat. He was replaced by Peter Kenyon who, after a period of ‘gardening leave’ from Manchester Utd, moved to Stamford Bridge to become the club’s new Chief Executive. This brought a certain amount of resentment from sections of the Chelsea crowd because of his links to the Old Trafford side. However, an expert in dealing with football supporters, Kenyon brushed aside the apparent concern and began to get on with the job of reshaping the infrastructure of the club, as well as instigating the search for a new manager to replace Claudio Ranieri.
As the new season approached, there was no doubt which club was attracting most of the media attention: Chelsea. Abramovich’s purchase had triggered an extraordinary and unprecedented £100m transfer splurge which had made the SW6 club the talk of the town. However, handed something of an open cheque book, manager Claudio Ranieri showed an unusual reticence towards tinkering with his squad – so others did it for him. The Italian stated that he needed only Real Madrid’s Geremi and Joe Cole of West Ham to make his squad complete, but the new owners had ambitions far beyond those of their manager.
In addition to the players so coveted by Ranieri, Abramovich’s immense purse was loosened further in order to lure recognised Premier League talents Wayne Bridge and Damien Duff to the Bridge, allied to the signing of another West Ham starlet in the shape of 19-year-old defender Glen Johnson. Manchester United’s enigmatic Argentinian midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron was purchased on the same day that Cole signed, and within a fortnight he had been joined by his international teammate Hernan Crespo and Parma’s Romanian playboy Adrian Mutu. A more low-key signing was Bordeaux’s Russian midfielder Alexei Smertin, who was immediately loaned to Portsmouth. Equally low-key was news of Boudewijn Zenden’s season-long loan to Middlesbrough, the Dutchman having regularly disappointed since joining Chelsea two years earlier.
Elsewhere, reigning Premiership champions Manchester United waved goodbye to David Beckham, the England captain moving to Real Madrid for a cool £25m, but bolstered their squad with the signings of American goalkeeper Tim Howard, Brazilian midfielder Kleberson and a little known Portuguese winger by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. Liverpool were the other big spenders, shelling out almost £10m for the combined talents of Leeds enigma Harry Kewell and Fulham full-back Steve Finnan.
Making history, Not reliving it . A brand new book from Gate 17 publications.