LONDON (AP) — Roman Abramovich symbolically diminished his status as Chelsea owner by appearing to step back from the decision-making process on Saturday after being called upon to completely relinquish control of the Premier League club following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The billionaire is one of Russia’s most high-profile oligarchs and has been highlighted in the past for his ties to President Vladimir Putin, who is ostracized around the world for launching the unprovoked attack on a neighbor .
There are no signs that Abramovich is paving the way for a sale of the club he has transformed since 2003 with his wealth, but a carefully worded statement indicates a relinquishment of some control.
“I have always taken decisions in the interests of the club,” he said. “I remain attached to these values. That is why I today entrust the trustees of the Chelsea Charitable Foundation with the management and care of Chelsea FC.
“I think they are currently in the best position to defend the interests of the club, the players, the staff and the supporters.”
The foundation is chaired by Bruce Buck, who is also chairman of the club after becoming a trustee following the Abramovich takeover. Chelsea finance director Paul Ramos is also among the directors, as is Emma Hayes, who manages the women‘s team.
There was no sense this change at Stamford Bridge was happening before the attack on Ukraine, and politicians were among those urging an end to its ownership. Abramovich had previously given director Marina Granovskaia significant control over transfers and other key issues, such as the hiring and firing of managers.
There was no announcement as to whether Abramovich would be subject to British sanctions targeting the Russians. Abramovich made his fortune in oil and aluminum during the chaotic years following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Some of this wealth was used by the football fan to chase the prestige and status that came with sporting success after buying Chelsea. Since 2003, Abramovich has invested over $2 billion in loans and transformed the west London side into one of England’s most successful. Earlier this month, the Blues added the Club World Cup title to the Champions League trophy won last year.
“In my almost 20 years as owner of Chelsea FC,” Abramovich said, “I have always seen my role as a goalkeeper for the club, whose job is to make sure we do as well as possible today. , as well as building for the future, while playing a positive role in our communities.
Abramovich, a former Russian provincial governor, is now a dual Israeli citizen with an estimated net worth of over $13 billion.
Abramovich has not had a UK visa since 2018 when a renewal application was taking longer than usual and was withdrawn.
It came at a time when Britain pledged to review long-term visas for wealthy Russians following the poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury . Britain blamed Russia for the couple’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation that Moscow denies and to which Abramovich is not linked.
At the time, Abramovich halted plans to build a new stadium, citing the “current unfavorable investment climate”.
The announcement of Chelsea’s ‘stewardship and care’ handover came a day before the League Cup final encounter with Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. Victory would give Chelsea a fourth League Cup under Abramovich to go along with five Premier League titles, two European Cups, two Europa League titles and five FA Cups.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel admitted on Friday that the issues surrounding the Ukraine crisis and Abramovich were affecting the team.
“It clouds our minds,” Tuchel said. “It brings huge uncertainty, much more to all the people and families who are actually more involved than us right now. And our best wishes, greetings and thoughts obviously go with them, which is absolutely the most important thing.
“And there’s still so much uncertainty around the situation at our club and the situation in the UK, with scenarios like this, that it doesn’t make sense if I comment on it.”
Abramovich was the first mega-wealthy owner to buy a Premier League club which has since seen the financial landscape reshaped by Abu Dhabi’s investment in Manchester City and the Saudi sovereign wealth fund’s purchase of Newcastle last year. .
Chris Bryant, an opposition Labor Party lawmaker, raised objections to Abramovich in the House of Commons this week and said the government should consider “seizing some of his assets”, including a house he claimed to be worth 152 million pounds ($204 million).
Bryant cited what he claimed was a leaked government document from 2019 suggesting Abramovich was associated with “corrupt activities and practices” in Russia.
“Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?” says Bryant.
Across the Premier League on Saturday, players and fans at matches showed solidarity with those in and from Ukraine after Russia invaded with flags and messages calling for peace .