Abramovich took control at Chelsea in June 2003, buying the club for an eventual fee of £140 million (US$175 million) which included covering £80 million in debts.
Since then the Russian energy tycoon, 53, has plowed hundreds of millions of pounds into the club, turning them into consistent winners of the big prizes in domestic and European football, including five Premier League titles, a Champions League crown and a Europa League double.
That outlay has also seen Chelsea’s financial worth soar, with Abramovich now said to value the club at around £3 billion.
But while the big-spending Russian is now one of world football’s most famous owners, the story was very different when Abramovich first rolled into town in the summer of 2003, according to corporate lawyer Mark Taylor, who helped broker the takeover.
“Chelsea had been looking for investors for about 18 months and we’d had a lot of time-wasters and Roman seemed viable,” Taylor told The Athletic.
The ex-Blues director said that so little was known about Abramovich that his lawyers decided to bring along a copy of Forbes magazine to illustrate to the Chelsea hierarchy just how wealthy the Russian tycoon was.
“Nobody really knew who he was, and so on the Friday morning his lawyers brought in Forbes magazine from America and I think he was No 15 on the list with X billion dollars, which seemed to be quite a good starting point,” Taylor said.
Taylor added that then-Chelsea chairman Ken Bates felt Abramovich could be a good custodian for the club, himself having saved them from potential financial ruin.
“I think [Bates] has said on record since that he felt he had done all he could. He saved the club being evicted from Stamford Bridge and by this time we had redeveloped the whole of the Bridge.
“That was one of the big reasons Roman liked Chelsea. It was in a good condition, fairly new with good facilities and that was very important to him,” Taylor said.
Abramovich, whose current wealth is estimated at around $12 billion by Forbes, is famously publicity-shy, which Taylor said was evident from their first meeting.
“He was a very shy individual but he seemed perfectly pleasant and his team were impressive.
“They were talking a good story that came to fruition with the players they bought that summer.”
Abramovich would make good on that promise, signing 13 players in his first few months in charge, heralding a spending spree that rarely let up in the ensuing years.
Taylor said he had personally been wired the £60 million fee for control of the club by Abramovich after the deal was done.
“We completed on Tuesday night around 9:30pm and by that stage it was too late to transfer the money. Roman would send me the money the next day but my bank account went into all sorts of worry when £60 million hit my client account!” he joked.
Football history may have been very different had Abramovich not chosen Chelsea as his plaything, with frequent speculation down the years that he had come close to splashing out on London rivals Tottenham or Arsenal instead.
Taylor said that Abramovich had met with Spurs bosses the day before the deal for Chelsea, but that chairman Daniel Levy – who is still in charge at Tottenham – had not wanted to cede total control to the Russian.
“The key point was that when Ken met Roman and Eugene Tenenbaum [his associate] they made it very clear that they wanted to buy control.
“I think the story is they had seen Daniel Levy the previous day and he’d tried to sell them 29.9 per cent of Tottenham but they didn’t want a minority stake, they wanted control.”
Abramovich has been very much in control at Chelsea ever since, although his reign as owner has hit turbulent times in recent years.
He suffered visa woes in the fallout to the Skripal spy poisoning scandal between Britain and Russia in March of 2018, meaning he has not visited a Chelsea home game in almost two years. The club have also put plans for a £1 billion stadium redevelopment on hold, citing an “unfavorable investment climate.”
Abramovich’s absence has fueled speculation that he may be willing to part with the club, with supposed suitors from the US including billionaire baseball tycoon Todd Boehly and from the UK in the form of the country’s richest man, chemicals magnate Jim Ratcliffe.
However, senior figures at Stamford Bridge have frequently asserted that Abramovich remains as committed as ever, citing the fact that he pumped £247 million into the club in the last financial year alone.
Abramovich also recently did his bit to help the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the UK by turning Chelsea’s onsite hotel over to the National Health Service (NHS) for use, fully covering the cost of healthcare workers staying at the facility.