The Russian billionaire’s tenure at Chelsea was not all positive, according to Richard Masters
Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League, claims former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has left behind a questionable legacy following the end of his spell in English football.
Abramovich’s reign saw the Londoners enjoy the best period of prolonged success in the club’s history as they won five Premier League crowns and two Champions League titles amid a torrent of silverware won by Chelsea since 2003.
But Masters argues that the circumstances surrounding Abramovich’s departure from English football leave behind a bad taste.
The Premier League team was purchased by a consortium fronted by US businessman Todd Boehly in May, a deal which came about after Abramovich floated the club on the open market in anticipation of being sanctioned by the UK government in the weeks following the launch of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Abramovich’s assets – Chelsea included – were frozen due to his alleged links to the Kremlin, and Masters says that the final months of the Russian’s tenure in English football have overshadowed what he achieved at the club in the prior two decades.
“It’s difficult to say now, with hindsight, that it’s all been good, given what has transpired over the last six-and-a-half months,” Masters said days out from the kickoff of the new Premier League season.
“I think if you ask Chelsea fans, they would give you a different answer. I think the situation we ended with has given the sport some challenges we’ve got to meet.”
Boehly, who also operates the baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers, was faced with a glut of tests and deadlines to determine if he was to be considered an acceptable owner of a Premier League side – a gauntlet that Masters laments Abramovich was not subjected to when he bought Chelsea from previous owner Ken Bates in 2003.
“Ultimately, there wasn’t an owners’ and directors’ test when Abramovich took ownership of Chelsea, so I suppose the answer to the question is, had there been that in place, what would have happened and what safeguards do we need to build in for the future?
“[There is] a rolling test, yes. Prevention is better than cure, isn’t it?
“There wasn’t then, there is now, it’s going to change and part of that actually is probably going to be the strengthening of the annual test.”
However, critics have pointed to the recent buyout of Newcastle United by the by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund – and the ensuing allegations of ‘sports-washing’ – as entirely undermining any ownership standards espoused by the league.
But ultimately, Masters appears pleased that one of the Premier League’s most bankable commodities has found a new owner after the most unconventional sale process ever seen in English football.
“You’re in unique circumstances, nothing like this has happened before,” he said of the rushed nature of the sale as Boehly raced against various deadlines imposed by the UK government and the Premier League itself which at one point appeared to threaten the very foundations of the club.
“There was obviously a genuine concern the sale wouldn’t take place in the timeframe that was available.
“That didn’t happen thankfully. A lot of people worked extremely hard on it at the club’s end, the government’s end and the Premier League’s end to make sure things were running as smoothly as possible.
“All I can say is we’re very pleased that it happened, obviously.”
One suspects Chelsea supporters will only say the same if the cascade of trophies arriving at Stamford Bridge does so at the same rate of knots as it did under Abramovich.