With a formal share offer, published on this website late on Tuesday 1 July 2003, it was announced to the world that Chelsea Football Club was embarking on a new era, and sparking a new age for English football too.
After a long weekend of negotiations and paperwork, a deal had been agreed that day for a Russian businessman to buy 50.09 per cent of the existing shares in Chelsea Village plc from then chairman Ken Bates and other owners. It meant a new man was in control of the 98-year-old club.
The published share offer was a mandatory one for all the remaining shares which were in many hands, and in due course Roman Abramovich became the sole owner. Among the formal words in the share offer on chelseafc.com a decade ago today was a comment:
‘We are delighted to agree this deal to acquire what is already one of the top clubs in Europe,’ it said.
‘We have the resources and ambition to achieve even more given the huge potential of this great club.’
Throughout this week on the official Chelsea website we are celebrating the anniversary, and the wonderful decade of success since, by looking at how that pledge became reality both on and off the pitch.
The statistics of the period are published below and over the coming days we will list the key club records that have been broken in the last 10 years.
All-time topscorer Frank Lampard, the man with the most appearances and most goals in the Abramovich era, will give his side of the story regarding the club changing hands, and changing in many other ways besides, and we will be hearing from former players too.
Bruce Buck, who played a role in the takeover before becoming chairman, discusses working closely with the owner, and chief executive Ron Gourlay is interviewed on how the club has grown, and how well it is positioned for the next 10 years. Other areas of important work such as the Academy and Chelsea Foundation will be reviewed.
Chelsea TV tonight at 6.45pm and 10.15pm will broadcast an hour-long documentary titled Roman Abramovich – A Decade of Success. In the programme, important Chelsea figures and leading football journalists will discuss and pay tribute to the owner and his football club project, with plenty of on-pitch action too from the major moments in that time.
Back in July 2003 there was plenty of excitement throughout the Chelsea-supporting world but understandable uncertainty too over just what the sale of the club meant. As common as it is now, foreign-ownership was a rarity in the Premier League in 2003, and to what degree this new Chelsea would, and could, impact on what had been a relatively depressed transfer market was initially unclear.
Plenty of supporters of other clubs were predicting, or at least hoping, Abramovich’s interest would be shortlived. Their optimism has faded with every TV shot of his enjoyment of a goal, or captivated expression during a key match moment, and with each world-class player introduced to the squad over the years.
With Chelsea’s finances shaky prior to the takeover, the future for some existing players had been up in the air. The dawn of the new era was too late unfortunately for Gianfranco Zola, but on the same day the honourable Sardinian confirmed he would not break a pledge to return to his home island, another Chelsea legend in the making signed a new contract. His name is John Terry. It was the day after the club changed hands.
Ten years on, Terry tells Chelsea magazine in an exclusive interview, published next week in printed and digital formats: ‘There are probably no words that can put into context what Mr Abramovich has done for this football club. He has obviously transformed the team but also, behind the scenes, he has done so much, not least the training ground.
‘When you speak to him, he talks football. He wants to know how the club can improve and what he can do to improve it. He wants to keep pushing on. He wants to win every trophy, every single year. That is his target every season. And that is what he will keep here – showing us the level we are expected to be at, which we have to keep striving for.’
Back in 2003 the new signings soon began. Glen Johnson makes a good quiz answer. He was the first and after a month manager Claudio Ranieri was at a press conference alongside the teenage right-back plus Damien Duff, Wayne Bridge and Geremi. It was a clear statement of intent.
Joe Cole and Juan Sebastian Veron were soon presented together, and later Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo were recruited, making for an exciting and much-changed Chelsea line-up on the first day of the season.
Claude Makelele joined before the end of what was a long, hot summer in which we dominated the sports news, and by then Chelsea fans had a good idea about the future of the club.
Looking back now on the 10 years and the 11 major trophies won, it is hard to see beyond becoming the first London team to lift the Champions League trophy as the pinnacle, especially with the path to Munich having been a long and at times torturous one. It was with a qualifier in Europe’s top club competition that the games in the Abramovich era began, and although perhaps never the obsession it was sometimes portrayed in the media, coming out on top in 2012 felt like a glaringly obvious missing piece in the jigsaw slotting into place.
Chelsea during the last decade have won at least once every competition we have entered with the exception of the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup, and we have a chance to remedy the latter in a matter of weeks.
Back-to-back domestic league titles in 2005 and 2006, and the Double in 2010, add value to the trophy haul. Such achievements are the mark of major clubs.
That league title in the first year of Jose Mourinho and the second of Abramovich, Chelsea’s first for half a century, backed up the decision to change manager in 2004, just as further silverware accumulated has often done with subsequent managerial switches.
The Champions League needed a long chase before capture but we secured the other big one rapidly. During that record-breaking two-year domination of the Premiership under Mourinho, Chelsea fans knew their team was indisputably the best in the land, perhaps for the first time ever.
The introduction of a new club badge back in 2004, based hugely on the much-loved 1950s original, was another reason for supporters to smile. There is also widespread appreciation that our history has been given suitable prominence.
An expanded museum is thriving at Stamford Bridge and the club has bought items of historical significance when they became available.
Those who have served us in the past are welcome here and the Past Players’ Trust, introduced in 2006, is there when they need support or a financial helping hand.
‘I appeared on Chelsea TV after it was announced Roman Abramovich had taken over and after the interview I was asked to hang around,’ recalls Ron Harris, our former captain and our record appearance maker.
‘Five or 10 minutes later I was in a room with Mr Abramovich and he was asking me questions about Chelsea, the players and things like that. He welcomed me back to the club and I’ve been here working ever since.
‘He’s done a fantastic job on the playing side but also for the older lads, we’re all made to feel welcome here. He took about 30 or 40 of the former players to Russia when we played Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final and you just feel a part of everything.
‘It never happened before; when you left that was it, finished. But now you see the older lads here on a regular basis.’
Abramovich’s arrival allowed the quick resolution of a major Chelsea anomaly – the fact a Champions League-competing club was training at a wind-swept, glorified student sports ground. In December 2004 we moved to Cobham and in August 2008 the owner was there for the opening of an impressive Academy and Community Pavilion, close by the existing first team building which itself is universally praised on first sight by anyone who enters.
It was made clear within the club from the early days that the owner wished it to function well as a business and as a football team, and that meant producing players as well as buying them. It meant attracting new supporters too. He also expressed his wish for Chelsea to be a force for good in places it could make a difference, and our corporate social responsibility programme was born.
By winning the FA Youth Cup in 2010 and 2012 the club doubled our previous tally in that competition. There were two other appearances in the final and a runners-up place in the NextGen Series competition for European youth teams. The investment has taken place in developing talent and hopes are high for the first team to benefit in the coming years.
The Chelsea Ladies team became properly integrated into the club and is now one of eight sides in the elite FA Women’s Super League. In 2012 they reached the Women’s FA Cup final for the first time and that season the Girls’ FA Youth Cup was won.
The Chelsea Foundation now looks after a vast and increasing range of club activities away from the pitch, including charity involvement and inclusion and education projects. These start at home, but spread worldwide too with the countries the team visits on tour especially benefitting.
A year into the Abramovich era the Fans’ Forum was introduced and continues to provide a dialogue between supporter representatives and senior club staff. These are all changes in the last 10 years that are set to endure.
On-pitch memories naturally burn the brightest. Thrashing Lazio away in Rome. The Lampard brace at Bolton. Joe Cole bamboozling Man United and the team winning the league at home. Christening the new Wembley with blue ribbons on silverware. Finally overcoming Liverpool to clear the Champions League semi-final hurdle. Equalling our biggest ever away win at Arsenal. Didier Drogba rising from the Old Trafford bench to keep us on track for a league and cup double. David Luiz advancing from the back and crossing with a bicycle kick on his full debut. The Petr Cechpenalty saves on that night in southern Germany. Lampard setting a new high-water mark for goals scored with two vital strikes – and many, many others.
Since interrupting the Old Trafford-Highbury express that seemed unstoppable in the decade before 2003, Chelsea have more than played our part in a thriving period in English football as competition in the upper reaches of the league table became keener and keener, watched enthusiastically around the globe.
Mourinho summed up the growth in Chelsea’s worldwide appeal.
‘This club had a history before Mr Abramovich arrived and had a history after,’ he said. ‘The first time I went to the United States with Chelsea in 2004, there was an open training session and there were about 10 kids there. Nobody cared. We could walk in the street.
‘After two years, after the boom of the economic power from the owner, buying the players and winning the Premier League, reaching the Champions League semi-finals, the next year we went to the States there was an open session and there were around three or four thousand fans.’
Moments like this anniversary are a chance to look forward as well as back, and Ron Gourlay will outline on this website this week the club’s work regarding the challenge set by Financial Fair Play.
An annual profit was announced last year and the Abramovich investment, with loans converted to equity, has ensured that debt no longer threatens the club’s future as it did severely in the not-so-distant past. The training and Academy facilities are already in place for the next decade and beyond.
A sold-out Stamford Bridge is commonplace and the fanbase continues to grow, as does our reputation as one of the main powers in the game. Who back in June 2003 would have believed Chelsea versus Barcelona could become one of football’s big rivalries for instance, or that our major trophy count since then stands comparison with Man United and is nine more than Arsenal? A Russian businessman apart that is.