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Roman Abramovich: A Profile

SATURDAY 20th September 2003

Forbes Magazine lists Roman Abramovich as one of the world's 50 wealthiest figures, and he already has the TV station and hockey team required of any self-respecting Russian oligarch. Now, much to Chelsea Football Club's delight, this reclusive billionaire has decided to make his mark on England's beautiful game.

Arctic upbringing

The man behind the biggest takeover in British football history, Abramovich grew up many miles away from the glamour of West London. An orphan by the age of four, he was raised by his Jewish family in the harsh environs of the Arctic Circle.

He began his business career selling plastic ducks from a grim Moscow apartment but, within a few years, Abramovich's vast wealth spread from oil conglomerates to pig farms, and secured his place within Yeltsin's inner circle. However, even today, his task force of bodyguards and armoured Mercedes testify to the high-risk nature of capitalism in post-Soviet Russia.

When Putin came to power, Abramovich entered politics himself, becoming the governor of a remote, but resource-rich, Siberian region. After winning the election by 92% of the vote, he pumped millions of pounds into the area, building houses and sending thousands of schoolchildren on holiday.

Some observers considered this political platform a dry run for the mayorship of Moscow, but Abramovich claimed his actions were "just to see whether I like it".

Chelski

Now the Roman Empire has come to Stamford Bridge, and his arrival has sparked the same contrasting reactions. MP and long-time Chelsea fan Tony Banks has questioned whether, with his big but Byzantine asset portfolio, Abramovich makes a "fit and proper" owner.

Club chairman Ken Bates, however, has welcomed his new benefactor. As well as wiping out Chelsea's debts and polishing Bates' personal coffers to the tune of £17 million, the Russian has promised a further £30million each on new players and training facilities.

He's already blown that meagre budget, in one day spending £24 âmillion to safeguard the assets of Damien Duff and Wayne Bridge. This money is petty cash for Abramovich but, for those on the club terraces, it holds the promise of championship, FA Cup and even European success.

His bottomless pocket in the transfer market means other teams get to enjoy the fruits of his largesse, and any victories for Chelsea will turn him overnight into a local hero. For players and fans alike of the beautiful game, it seems Roman Abramovich has everything to pay for.