(LONDON) — Roman Abramovich symbolically diminished his status as Chelsea owner by appearing to take himself out of the decision-making process on Saturday after facing calls to completely give up control of the Premier League club following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The billionaire is one of Russia’s highest-profile oligarchs and has been highlighted in the past for links to President Vladimir Putin, who is being ostracized globally for launching the unprovoked attack on a neighbor.
Although there is not any indication Abramovich intends to sell the club that he transformed with his wealth since 2003, a well-written statement suggested that a certain amount of control has been relinquished.
“I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart,” he said. “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.”
The foundation is chaired by Bruce Buck, who is also chairman of the club after becoming a director following Abramovich’s takeover. Chelsea director of finance Paul Ramos is also among the trustees as is Emma Hayes, who manages the women’s team.
The change in Stamford Bridge ownership was unanticipated. This was even before the Ukraine attack. Abramovich was already giving significant control to Marina Granovskaia as director over transfers and key issues like hiring and firing managers.
Abramovich is not currently subject to British sanctions. Abramovich earned his fortune from oil and aluminum in the turbulent years following the 1991 collapse of Soviet Union.
The football fan used some of this wealth to pursue the status and prestige that came with winning Chelsea. Abramovich invested over $2 billion through loans since 2003 and made the West London team one of the best in England. The Blues have added the Club World Cup title, to last year’s Champions League trophy.
“During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC,” Abramovich said, “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 is a former Russian governor and now lives in dual Israeli citizenship with an estimated net worth of more than $13 million.
Since 2018, Abramovich was denied a British visa. A renewal request was slow and was eventually withdrawn.
This was at the same time that Britain promised to examine the visas of wealthy Russians following the poisonings of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury. Britain blamed Russia for the pair’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation Moscow denies, and Abramovich is not linked to.
At the time, Abramovich halted plans to build a new stadium, citing the “current unfavorable investment climate.”
The announcement about handing over the “stewardship and care” of Chelsea came a day ahead of the League Cup final meeting with Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. Victory would bring Chelsea the fourth League Cup, along with five Premier League titles, two European Cups and five FA Cups.
Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea acknowledged that Friday’s issues with Abramovich and the Ukraine crisis were impacting the club.
“It’s clouding our minds,” Tuchel said. “It brings huge uncertainty, much more to all the people and families who are actually in the moment more involved than us. They are our thoughts and best wishes.
“And still there are so many uncertainties around the situation of our club and of the situation in the UK, with scenarios like this, that it makes no sense if I comment on it.”
Abramovich was first to become a super-rich owner and buy a Premier League club. The Premier League’s financial situation has changed since Abu Dhabi invested in Manchester City last year, as well as the acquisition of Newcastle by the Saudi sovereign asset fund.
Chris Bryant, a legislator with the opposition Labour Party, raised objections to Abramovich in the House of Commons this week and said the government should be looking at “seizing some of his assets,” including a home he claimed to be worth 152 million pounds ($204 million).
Bryant cited what he claimed to be a leaked government document from 2019 suggesting Abramovich was associated with “corrupt activity and practices” in Russia.
“Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?” Bryant said.
Across the Premier League on Saturday, players and fans at matches showed solidarity toward those in — and from — Ukraine following Russia’s invasion with flags and messages calling for peace.