A little over ten years ago, a new template for running a football club was established when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich assumed control of Chelsea. Abramovich’s plan was simple — even if possibly nefarious: dump mountains of cash into the club to acquire top level talent on the field and off, and as such, win trophies with that top talent.
Dividends for this strategy were paid nearly immediately. In the first season with Abramovich writing the checks, Chelsea finished second in the Premier League and advanced all the way to the Champions League semifinals. The next season, after recruiting one José Mourinho to steer the ship, they won the Premier League. And they repeated the feat the year after.
Sure, there were many that claimed that Abramovich’s wealth was skewing the landscape of professional football. They (rightly) claimed his wealth made it possible to outbid for the services of any player and any manager of his choosing, thus inflating the transfer fees and wages of players.
But he proved the system of pouring cash into a club could yield results, and could level the playing field for a club to compete against the long-established forces of European football.
Now, it’s a little naive to say that Roman came up with this system all on his own. Leeds United had attempted a similar scheme several years prior, but did so on the back of loans instead of out of the pocket of an independently wealthy benefactor. And too, Leeds chieved far less and failed to consistently achieve the level of success needed to service their loans. The burning rubble left from that overzealous investment still smolders today, serving as a warning to clubs considering a similar path.
But nevertheless, Abramovich’s model predictably encouraged a myriad of copycat efforts around European football. For some like Chelsea, it’s worked out. But for most — for example Portsmouth, who chose the wrong “wealthy” owners — it did not, sometimes spectacularly. Anzhi Makhachkala, Málaga, AS Monaco… the list goes on.
Then there’s the case of a club like Manchester City.