Roman Abramovich has passed the stewardship of Chelsea to the trustees of the club’s charitable foundation. The Russian, who bought the club in 2003, remains the owner but has relinquished the running of Chelsea after a call in parliament for him to be sanctioned following the invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich, provided he is not sanctioned, can continue to fund the club but the focus on him has provoked this move on the eve of Chelsea’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool. Abramovich has vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Vladimir Putin and Russia or that he has done anything to merit sanctions being imposed against him.
Chelsea’s charitable foundation is headed by Bruce Buck, the club’s chairman. The other trustees are Emma Hayes, the Chelsea Women’s manager; Piara Powar, the executive director of the anti-racism organisation Fare; Paul Ramos, Chelsea’s director of finance; the sports lawyer John Devine; Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics; and Hugh Robertson, the chairman of the British Olympic Association and a former MP and sports minister.
Abramovich’s move could attract interest in the club from potential bidders, although Chelsea are insistent the club are not for sale.
Football decisions, including transfers, contracts and the future of the manager, Thomas Tuchel, will be the responsibility of the director Marina Granovskaia and the technical and performance director, Petr Cech. They are already heavily influential in running the club and in practical terms little will change for now on a day-to-day basis. It is not known what the impact on Chelsea would be were Abramovich to be sanctioned.
“During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the Club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities,” Abramovich said in a statement. “I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.
“I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans.”
There is no suggestion Abramovich will call in the £1.5bn worth of loans he has made to the club.
The call to sanction Abramovich was made by the Labour MP Chris Bryant on Thursday. Telling the House of Commons that he was quoting from a Home Office document leaked to him, Bryant suggested the UK should seize Abramovich’s assets and bar him from owning Chelsea. Bryant also questioned why nothing more had been done about the 55-year-old’s UK assets given this official verdict.
Bryant responded to Abramovich’s statement on Saturday by tweeting: “Good. Now he can condemn the illegal invasion.”
Tuchel admitted on Friday that he and Chelsea’s players were worried and distracted by the “uncertainty” created by Abramovich being named in parliament. “We are aware of it and it’s distracting us, it’s worrying us,” he said. “To a certain degree I can understand the opinions and the critical opinions towards the club, towards us who represent that club. I can understand that and we cannot fully free ourselves from it.”
Tuchel added that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had diminished his enthusiasm for the Wembley showpiece significantly. “Football can clearly lift the mood but still it maybe comes a little bit with a bad conscience on Sunday,” the German said. “Are we allowed to fully engage and fully celebrate? Is this inappropriate? I have to say, this is how I feel about it because it is so new and so fresh. So it is a bit of a mixed feeling.”
In 2018 Abramovich withdrew his application for a new UK investor visa, amid worsening links between the UK and Russia. Abramovich has an Israeli passport and has since travelled to the UK using that. He also took up Portuguese citizenship in December.
In November he attended his first Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge in more than three years and he has continued to give the club huge financial backing. Chelsea won the Champions League last season and collected the 21st trophy of the Abramovich era with the Club World Cup this month.
Under his ownership, Chelsea have won five Premier League titles and FA Cups, in addition to the Champions League on two occasions.
The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust said it was seeking “urgent clarification” over what Abramovich’s statement means for the running of the club and was ready to work with the trustees. “We stand with the people of Ukraine,” it said.