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
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