Abramovich to act on prom­ise to splash the cash at Chelsea

Progress un­der Lam­pard is enough to en­cour­age ex­iled bil­lion­aire owner, de­spite con­tin­ued ab­sence from UK

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By Tom Mor­gan SPORTS NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Ro­man Abramovich is mak­ing good on a prom­ise he made to Frank Lam­pard at what might have other­wise been the bleak­est of times at Stam­ford Bridge.

Chelsea were mid­way through their Fifa trans­fer em­bargo last au­tumn and deny­ing claims that the club were for sale when the owner ap­par­ently picked up the phone to Lam­pard and di­rec­tor Ma­rina Gra­novskaia. Rather than march­ing away, Abramovich was in­stead pledg­ing to open up the war chest for an­other on­slaught.

The ex­iled bil­lion­aire, who had then not set foot in the UK for 18 months amid lin­ger­ing An­glo-Rus­sian ten­sions, had seen enough un­der his young man­ager’s rev­o­lu­tion to per­suade him to spend big again.

Abramovich fa­mously fell in love

with foot­ball, and even­tu­ally Chelsea, af­ter watch­ing a Euro­pean tie between Manch­ester United and Real Madrid in 2003, and watch­ing Lam­pard’s young side thrive with­out a penny to spend had seem­ingly re­vived the ro­mance. Fig­ures in world foot­ball who wanted rid of him – and the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment for that mat­ter – would only add to the al­lure of re­build­ing the em­pire.

De­spite his ab­sence from the UK, as­so­ci­ates say Abramovich is as happy as they have known him dur­ing his own­er­ship. He has re­cruited fig­ures at Chelsea to help di­rect more spare cash to­wards char­i­ta­ble projects, hav­ing trans­ferred many in­vest­ments into haulage af­ter a num­ber of sell-offs, in­clud­ing stocks to­talling £300 mil­lion at Lon­don-based steel gi­ant Evraz.

An in­creas­ing com­mit­ment to fight­ing anti-Semitism has en­dured even through the Covid pan­demic. Last week Chelsea reaf­firmed sup­port for the RAF Mu­seum in Lon­don and Abramovich’s lat­est phil­an­thropic project is to fund a for­est ded­i­cated to Lithua­nian Jews who fell vic­tim to the Holo­caust.

For those clos­est to the enig­matic Rus­sian, this is his most per­sonal public ges­ture to date. The project is rooted in per­sonal fam­ily tragedy as he is be­lieved to be de­scended from vic­tims of a Sec­ond World War mas­sacre that has been all but for­got­ten by his­tory.

Legacy is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to the Rus­sian, who could travel to the UK on his Is­raeli pass­port, but feels he has be­come col­lat­eral dam­age in a feud between the For­eign Of­fice and Rus­sia, which erupted af­ter the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ings. Sources close to Abramovich say he has not had a sin­gle con­ver­sa­tion with the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment in more than two years.

How­ever, there has never been a sense of aban­don­ment at Chelsea, who have re­peat­edly said he has not lis­tened to any of the of­fers tabled in the two years since his visa row erupted in early 2018.

The unan­swered question re­mains whether he will re­turn to the £1 bil­lion rede­vel­op­ment of Stam­ford Bridge, which was put on ice in ap­par­ent frus­tra­tion at UK au­thor­i­ties.

Chelsea sup­port­ers will hope the re­cent trans­fer ac­tiv­ity – gen­er­at­ing mil­lions in taxes for the Trea­sury – is a sig­nal that the an­swer is yes, al­though the eco­nomic rea­sons Abramovich cited when post­pon­ing the rede­vel­op­ment have not changed, with Lon­don’s prop­erty mar­ket stag­nat­ing.

De­spite now be­ing among four for­merly Bri­tish-based Rus­sian oli­garchs forced into ex­ile, Abramovich, as ev­i­denced by Lam­pard’s sign­ings, is not one to give up on plans, how­ever. Never has a sum­mer splurge been so long in the mak­ing for an elite club, which is per­haps why Chelsea have en­joyed such suc­cess in land­ing the likes of Kai Havertz when oth­ers are tread­ing cau­tiously post-Covid.

Gra­novskaia and Lam­pard met in the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber to iden­tify their list of key tar­gets as soon as the Fifa em­bargo was over­turned. Ben Chilwell had been a key tar­get for some time be­fore, while Lam­pard’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Havertz ap­pears to have grown.

Com­mit­ted: The Telegraph re­vealed Ro­man Abramovich’s stance in Novem­ber 2019

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