Abramovich's plans to conquer the world (just as Benitez is beginning to win over the fans)
22:24 GMT, 15 December 2012
22:24 GMT, 15 December 2012
Roman Abramovich's quest for world
domination began with a trip to Arsenal's training ground in the summer
of 2003, shortly after he had bought Chelsea from Ken Bates.
Promising his new club the best
facilities money could buy, the young Russian billionaire took his
entourage on a tour of other clubs' headquarters to seek inspiration.
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The visit to Arsenal's London Colney was the key one. 'It should be like this,' said the oligarch as he surveyed the magnificent 143-acre site with its high-tech training and medical facilities. 'But bigger and better.'
Ten seasons on, in the unlikely setting of Yokohama, Abramovich's unwavering vision about Chelsea being the very best could become official at lunchtime on Sunday.
The FIFA Club World Cup may be belittled by some but, for Chelsea's owner, beating Corinthians of Brazil in the final is a natural progression from being crowned champions of Europe on an unforgettable night in Munich last May. And, according to Fernando Torres, victory could even end up with fans singing the name of interim manager Rafael Benitez.
Most of the Chelsea players are still reticent to discuss the Spaniard's influence since the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo last month, but Benitez is handling the situation handed to him by Abramovich with dexterity.
He joined locals in the 70th floor breakfast room at the Royal Park Hotel in Yokohama, where the team are staying, happily posing for photographs and has encouraged his players to mingle with the 200 or so fans who gather every day for a glimpse of their idols.
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Torres, who has scored five goals in his last three games – his best run in almost two years at the club – said: 'It is clear that the team have improved, both in defence and attack, and all this bears the stamp of Rafa. I knew he would make a big difference to Chelsea. He works hard – very hard – and soon the fans will accept him as one of them and not just for the results, but by the attitude we will see on the pitch. Now the fans will be happier and will like him.
'They are going to see the Chelsea they expect and the one they want to see. The Liverpool-Chelsea rivalry, with all the fighting that took place, may have created an animosity that is understandable, but it is just a matter of time before everything changes.'
In a quirk of the fixture list, Chelsea's next game after their world final will remind Abramovich of how it all began, with Bates now chairman of Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final opponents Leeds.
Abramovich's 140million Stamford Bridge buy-out in July 2003 was not only the most significant event of the modern Premier League era – opening the door for a new breed of overseas owner – it was also typically aggressive. He talked terms with Bates on the Wednesday and bought the club the following day.
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Indeed, it set the tone for a tumultuous decade that has seen the number of managers employed by Abramovich – nine – exceeded by the number of trophies won, 10.
One of the witnesses to this period is Gwyn Williams, who worked at Chelsea as coach, scout, technical director and assistant manager for 26 years under both Bates and Abramovich before rejoining Bates at Leeds in 2006, where he is the club's technical director.
'I was driving to Paris to pick up some trialists when I heard about the Abramovich deal,' he said. 'By the time I came out of the tunnel the other side, it had been done. It was a surprise because it happened so quickly, but we knew if Chelsea were going to the top, they needed seriously rich people involved.'
Abramovich was only 36 when he bought Chelsea and already a multi-billionaire. He decided to control the signing of players personally. Eugene Tenenbaum and Bruce Buck (trusted advisers), Pini Zahavi (agent) and Piet de Visser (scout) were consulted rather than leaving decisions to the manager. Last summer Eden Hazard and Oscar were signed without Di Matteo being a factor.
Williams does not see a problem with Abramovich's hands-on approach or his regular turnaround of managers. 'It's only regarded as strange in British football. In Europe, it's normal for a director of football to buy players and leave the manager to coach them. A club need to know their new player will be a good investment whoever the manager is,' he said.
'If every player you signed was fantastic, life would be easy. But Roman is not afraid of the hiccups and keeps moving forward. He is ambitious and needs to be. He is a wealthy man but also a clever man.'
A clever man who could be left feeling on top of the world.