Chelsea enter new uncertain era after Abramovich with win over Newcastle

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When enough time has passed for a full assessment of Roman Abramovich’s 19-year reign as Chelsea owner, Kai Havertz might just be the player that defines him more than any other. It is likely that it was his goal, in a 1-0 win over Newcastle United in the Premier League, that marked the start of an uncertain new era at Stamford Bridge.

The Germany international scored the game-winning goals that clinched 2021 Champions League glory and a first FIFA Club World Cup this year for Chelsea. He also arrived as a club-record £72million in 2020, so if any player sums up the trophies and largesse of the transfer market under Abramovich, it’s Havertz.

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But those days are over and no one yet knows what life after Abramovich will look like for Chelsea. The Russian oligarch was sanctioned this week by the UK government – meaning he is banned from the country and his assets, including Chelsea FC, have been frozen – over his links to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, following the decision of his country of origin. military invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

When the Premier League announced on Saturday that Abramovich had been disqualified as Chelsea manager, it was just a mere footnote at the end of a remarkable 48 hours that had left the club in a state of of financial paralysis. Abramovich had previously launched attempts to sell the club, using New York bank Raine Group to find a buyer, but that sale has now been put on hold, with Chelsea technical adviser Petr Cech admitting ahead of the Newcastle game that nobody is even certain that the club, whose credit cards have been frozen by the banks, will be able to complete the season.

“We focus on the things we can control,” former Blues goalkeeper Cech told Sky Sports. “But we have to admit that we are going day to day because it is not in our hands. The conversations are about whether we can finish the season and we are part of the Premier League.”

Confusion reigns at Stamford Bridge and it was evident before the game. The atmosphere outside the stadium was uncharacteristically muted, save for boisterous Newcastle fans who mocked their rivals with chants of running out of money, their own newfound wealth under Saudi owners and songs about Abramovich as a “war offender”.

This game has been touted by a prominent British sports journalist as a ‘stomach turning game’ as it is being played by a club which has been bankrolled by a man sanctioned for his links to Putin and another now owned by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, whose chairman is Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Newcastle fans waved Saudi flags during the game, but when manager Eddie Howe was asked how he could reconcile training for a club with links to a regime which on Saturday executed 81 people, he stuck firmly to the questions on the ground.

“I’m just going to take questions about the game and about the football,” Howe said. “I’m still bitterly disappointed with the loss.”

Asked about the issues facing Newcastle owners, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said: “Wow this is a big deal. Unfortunately the situation is like this for the owners of Newcastle. What can I say? I don’t want to point fingers at Newcastle because blaming others doesn’t change our situation.”

This is the reality of the Premier League in 2022. It is the most glamorous, wealthy and high-profile football league and it attracts all kinds of owners, from sovereign states with questionable human rights records. man to oligarchs seen as inextricably linked to those running a war in Europe. And Chelsea, who have become one of the most successful teams in the Premier League thanks to Abramovich’s money, are now discovering the flip side of depending so heavily on the wealth of an owner whose assets have now been frozen. by the British government.

The last time Chelsea played at Stamford Bridge was against Lille on February 22, two days before Russia invaded Ukraine. Against Lille, the club shop was open, fans could buy a match program and Abramovich was the almighty owner of the world and European champions. Less than three weeks later, none of that applies and the change has been so dramatic that fans have been urged by Tuchel not to chant Abramovich’s name as they defiantly did in Norwich on Thursday .

Abramovich’s name was not chanted during that match, but a banner bearing the Russian’s face and the words “The Roman Empire” continued to hang from Matthew Harding’s stand. He is unlikely to be there next time Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge, against Brentford next month.

Who knows what situation Chelsea will be in by then? Several interested parties are trying to buy the club, which remains an attractive investment opportunity due to its location in one of London’s most exclusive areas and its global brand, but if the financial problems caused by the sanctions of ‘Abramovich prevent the club from paying player salaries and other expenses, then the risk of insolvency would become real.

In Tuchel at least, Chelsea have a manager with honesty and perspective to lead the team and speak on behalf of the club and the former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain manager does so with distinction at the moment. When he emerged from the tunnel for his post-match interviews, more than 100 Chelsea fans who had remained in the ground gave Tuchel a standing ovation.

But Tuchel can only control football and so far he has guided the team to two wins in two games since Abramovich was sanctioned on Thursday. He saw Havertz score the winning goal in the 89th minute, after the player was lucky enough to escape a first-half red card for appearing to hit Dan Burn with an elbow, and celebrated with as much of relief than joy to consolidate third place and a Champions League qualifying spot.

Next up is the Champions League round of 16 second leg to Lille on Wednesday. Having been restricted to spending just £20,000 traveling to away games under government sanctions against the club, as one of Abramovich’s assets, Tuchel said after the match that Chelsea had been able to get a plane for the trip to France. “But if I have to drive a seven-seater, I will,” he added.

Things are still so bad for Chelsea, but no one really knows what the coming weeks will bring.

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