Andre Villas-Boas may be the first manager of his kind. Modest and ambitious, inseparable and detached from his club, he understands the new dictates of global football.
Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in the summer of 2003. He was unknown, a minor character in dying Sovietology circles. Biographies of him were (in ways still are) aggregated factoids of his acumen, influence, and criminal activity accompanied by a thumbnail photo represented by that default outline of a headshot. From a football perspective Abramovich’s motives for purchasing Chelsea were unclear. He had no known relationship to the game or to the club. Why did an oil and gas billionaire choose the football business over the countless business options available to him?
Things are clearer from the business and life perspective. By 2003, Russia had outgrown the initial “new Russia” label. The oligarchs’ free-for-all of the Boris Yeltsin era had given way to Vladimir Putin who turned them into public enemies. To avoid the fate of now-imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Abramovich went clean. He sold off his assets, resettled in London, and turned his business interests to owning a football club. Chelsea FC was the best business deal at the time, and a pleasurable small business venture. England provided security and generous tax breaks for his wealth, and London offered the quality of life for his family. He may have severed associations to a murky entrepreneurial past, but he brought with him a softer version of the unpredictable and ruthless practices.