By Shikharr Chandra | Premier League
As Jesper Gronkjaer received the ball on the edge of the area and sent a curling shot at the far post, Chelsea defeated Liverpool 2-1 and booked a place into next season's Champions League. A goal that would go on to change the shape not only of Chelsea but that of the modern day football.
A day dominated by the major headlines of David Beckham's move to Real Madrid from Manchester United, there was another short deal being made at SW6 as Ken Bates sold Chelsea to a Russian Billionare, a man no one had ever heard of in football before. Sold for a mere £60 million to the 46th richest person in the world at that time few would have imagined Roman Abramovich's impact at football 10 years later.
Abramovich's first taste of football came during the historic clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid back in 2003 and the game soon had him captivated.
“He went there, watched the game start and within 10 minutes said ‘I want to buy a team, “He was almost in shock at the atmosphere, the theatre. He then needed to find the team he wanted to buy.” said Avram Grant who accompanied Abramovich to his first game ever.
There were a lot of choices for the Saratov born business Tycoon, but it was English football that had really allured Abramovich. Close to signing a deal with fellow London rivals Tottenham and Fulham at one time, the prospect of taking over a club who was in the Champions League was an exciting prospect for Abramovich. It didn't take long for him to take over.
"It was a massive game for Chelsea. We all knew what we were playing for. I remember the stories about our financial situation." said Gronkjaer who scored what turned out to be the billion dollar goal for the club.
|Abramovich's decade at Chelsea
|2003-04: Buys Chelsea Football Club
Transfer amount spent: £642.3m
Training Ground: £20m
Major Trophies Won: 11
Managers sacked: 9
Abramovich's guidelines for his employees were simple, "winning is the only option" and soon football would realise that.
In his first season in charge, Abramovich kept faith with Claudio Ranieri who guided Chelsea to a Champions League place last season. Ranieri's Chelsea saw an influx of big names such as Hernan Crespo, Claude Makelele, Juan Sebastian Veron and Damien Duff.
Chelsea finished second to an Arsenal side who had just created history by going a full league season unbeaten. However, that was not enough to please the new Chelsea owner who had his eyes on an emerging talent back in Portugal- Jose Mourinho.
A character in himself, Jose Mourinho added the much needed attitude to Chelsea's emerging image. This was followed by the signing of Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's new chief executive from Manchester United and Frank Arnersen from Tottenham. A new head scout was appointed in Piet Di Visser. Abramovich was building a dynasty.
Mourinho's first season saw the re-building phase continue at Chelsea with a staggering £94m being spent on the likes of Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira to name a few. But unlike last season, Chelsea went one better this time around. They claimed the League title as well as the Carling Cup (now known as Capital One Cup), the trend continued next season as well when they retained the league title. But there was something missing for Abramovich to bridge the gap between Chelsea and world's best clubs- The Champions League, the glittering trophy which Abramovich craved for.
|The start of an era | Roman's impact brought instant success
Abramovich's push to build Chelsea into one of Europe's finest was evident. With trophies followed a better infrastructure and facilities at the club. Chelsea move from Harlington to Cobham in 2007 was the big signal that the Russian is here to stay.
Under Mourinho, Chelsea were criticised for playing a boring football. They were in the media for the wrong reasons and even though the Portuguese manager was rewarding his owner with titles the relationship between the two was not working out. He was then replaced by Avram Grant who was one of Roman's confidants.
Mourinho's departure raised a lot of questions on Chelsea's management. There was outrage among the fans but the Russian let the results do the talking. Chelsea went onto reach the finals of the Champions League that season only to be denied by Manchester United in a penalty shootout at Moscow, a place where it all began for the Russian tycoon.
Abramovich had a new vision for the club and one that involved them playing attractive football. Hence, World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed to continue the winning streak of the club as well as add the flair and the "beautiful football" at the club. The decision was short lived though as results did not go Scolari's way and he was soon shown the door.
Roman again turned to one of his friends for the remainder of the season as former Russian boss Guus Hiddink took in charge of the club. Hiddink went onto win the FA Cup as well as help Chelsea's turbulent season end in a very respectable way with a 3rd place finish.
Abramovich turned his attention to another experienced manager in Carlo Ancelotti. A tactically astute manager, Ancelotti guided Chelsea to a historic double in his first season but a trophy-less campaign next season saw him lose his job. He was replaced by a former Chelsea employee, Andre Villas-Boas but the Portuguese's tenure at the club lasted for as long as 6 months.
|The obsession | Roman's obsession finally came to an end
Abramovich's quest to find a replacement for Villas-Boas ended with his assistant and former Chelsea player Roberto Di Matteo, the man who would ultimately guide the club to their maiden Champions League title. But that was not enough for the new Chelsea boss who had been in the job for just 5 months before being shown the door by Abramovich.
With the signing of Oscar, Mata and Hazard with the addition of the Special One again, Roman looks to re-build this Chelsea side all over again and although many would say that the manager needs time to complete this process, don't be surprised if Abramovich pulls the trigger again if he is not pleased.
If Manchester United have had one man to thank to for all the trophies over the years, Chelsea fans should be indebted to their Russian tycoon who changed the fortunes of the club. Even though he may not be the richest man in Premier League now he remains the man who began this new era in modern football.
This is a story of an orphan from Saratov, Russia who has had a dreaded past but has never looked back again. Love him or hate him, football would have never been the same had this man not come in 10 years back.
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