Chelsea were commendably proactive in the local community during the coronavirus pandemic in London, one of the worst-hit cities in the world by the deadly disease, opening their Millennium Hotel for National Health Service (NHS) staff workers as well as donating 78,000 free meals to hospitals, all paid for by owner Abramovich.
The Covid-19-enforced break also meant huge financial ramifications for Premier League clubs, and has led to even champions-in-waiting Liverpool to tighten their purse strings, but that also presented an opportunity for Chelsea who have made some shrewd maneuvers in the meantime.
The West London club are planning a rebuild of their own; the club are already closing in on the $66 million signing of Timo Werner from RB Leipzig, having beaten Liverpool to his signature as the Anfield club were forced to drop out of the running to balance the books; the club also look set to snatch Werner’s highly-rated compatriot Kai Havertz, who has impressed since the Bundesliga’s restart.
Renewed mobility in the transfer market stems from the club being unable to make any signings following a two-window transfer ban which ended in February 2020. Meanwhile, billionaire chairman Abramovich has been in exile from Stamford Bridge since running into visa issues in 2018, which prompted talk of a multi-million-pound sale and a personal move to Israel.
Business has since been conducted by his right-hand woman Marina Granovskaia, who is pulling the strings for the Werner and Havertz deals, as well as being influential in securing the services of Ajax winger Hakim Ziyech for £33 million, cementing her reputation as ‘the most powerful woman in football’.
The Russian-Canadian was educated in Moscow and was Abramovich’s PA when the tycoon’s interests were primarily rooted in oil, and later joined the Chelsea board and was promoted to Chief Executive in 2014. Since then, Granovskaia has brokered the $1 billion deal for sports giants Nike to sponsor the London club’s kit until 2032, the largest deal in the club’s history.
Granovskaia is also the driving force behind Chelsea’s interest in Brazilian Gerson from Flamengo. The 23-year-old midfielder is rated at 30 million by his club and is also being courted by ex-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho at Tottenham. That news is likely to delight current Chelsea boss and Blues legend Frank Lampard, whom Granovskaia, unsurprisingly was key to bringing in.
Although the 45-year-old is an expert on acquisitions, she has proved equally adept at offloading players to make way for signings and bring in funds; Eden Hazard departed for Real Madrid for £89 million, which could rise to £150 million once all the add-ons are paid; and Alvaro Morata, now on loan at Real’s rivals Atletico, will sign for the Spanish club for 48.5 million this summer.
With dealings done to offload players, the Werner signing will more or less pay for itself. But Granovskaia’s genius lies not only in transactions. She has also managed to persuade Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to put pen to paper on new deals at the club, retaining valuable playing staff that had been nurtured through the club’s youth academy system, and therefore costing the club zilch.
With Chelsea’s rivals on the domestic scene and also in Europe strapped for cash, such as Barcelona who introduced a 70 percent wage reduction for players despite being one of the most commercially attractive clubs in the world, this summer could see the a return of the glory days of Abramovich’s early years in charge of the club that yielded countless titles and set new standards for English football.
Whatever this summer will bring to The Blues, Marina Granovskaia, football’s post powerful woman, will be at the forefront of their fortunes.