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Chelsea's second Champions League win is the culmination of Roman Abramovich's vision - MICHAELA REHLE /Reuters

Chelsea’s second Champions League win is the culmination of Roman Abramovich’s vision – MICHAELA REHLE /Reuters

For Roman Abramovich, a second Champions League victory means everything. This is why he bought Chelsea, this is why he has, over the years, pumped more than £1.5billion of his personal wealth into the club. This is the culmination of his stewardship, to see his club recognised as the most esteemed footballing institution in Europe.

“I think the reason why he loves football after all of these years is that it’s not a formula,” Eugene Tenenbaum, his fellow Russian director at Chelsea said recently. “It’s not an algorithm. He finds it exhilarating because you can’t control it.”

Though to characterise Chelsea as simply the plaything of a super-rich owner looking to bolster his ego is largely to underplay why Abramovich not only bought the club in the first place but remains in control 17 years on.

“There is something about personal status, of course,” says Professor Simon Chadwick, director of the Centre for the Eurasian Sports Industry at Lyon Business School in France, of the billionaire’s motives. “But what Chelsea has become over the years is probably the most significant informal networking tool the Russians have in the west.”

It is remarkable to recall that when Abramovich took control at Stamford Bridge in 2004, only two clubs in the Premier League were not owned by British citizens. And one of those, Fulham, was the property of Mohammed Al Fayed who had largely made his fortune in England. The speed with which Abramovich’s game-changing investment achieved dividends (Chelsea were champions of England a year after he took control) opened the eyes of the international super-rich to the possible value being involved in the game here. He was the pioneer.

Unlike some of those who followed him, Abramovich, however, was never remotely interested in using his purchase as a platform for self-aggrandisement. He has scarcely done an interview, never addressed the media, never sought to use it as a vehicle to buff up his image. Nor has he ever let us know his motives. And, as he remained a distant figure, viewed only through a long lens in his box at Stamford Bridge (and latterly, since he did not apply for a UK working visa and has stayed out of the country, not even that), so the theories accumulated as to his purpose.

The theory that he first bought Chelsea as a protection against the Russian state has been oft-stated but never substantiated, although the one thing no-one would argue with is the fact that Abramovich has clearly been left to run the club without any overt political interference from Moscow.

Chelsea's second Champions League win is the culmination of Roman Abramovich's vision - BEN STANSALL /AFPChelsea's second Champions League win is the culmination of Roman Abramovich's vision - BEN STANSALL /AFP

Chelsea’s second Champions League win is the culmination of Roman Abramovich’s vision – BEN STANSALL /AFP

And, give or take the odd managerial recruitment issue, he has run it extremely well – as a total of 19 major trophies in the past 18 years would attest. Tenenbaum might be right that he has embraced football’s essential uncontrollability, but if so he is unusual. Many of the foreign investors who followed his lead – from George Gillett and Tom Hicks at Liverpool to Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, Carson Yeung at Birmingham City and Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson’s Icelandic consortium at West Ham – quickly tired of the game’s financial quirks, stopped investing and decamped after falling out of favour with the supporters.

Abramovich, by contrast, remains hugely admired by the Chelsea following, forever grateful for how he has transformed their club into Champions League winning European giants. It was telling that, unlike the gatherings at Old Trafford and the Emirates, when fans protested against the Super League outside Stamford Bridge recently, there was no hint of blame attached to the owner. Indeed many Chelsea fans preferred to believe he had been coerced into joining the conspiracy. The Russian listened, too, ensuring his club were the first – along with last night’s beaten opponents – to announce they were no longer keen to be part of the Super League.

“That is the essence of soft power,” says Prof Chadwick. “It is convincing the world that you want the same as they do. Football is an incredibly significant tool in that. But the important word in that phrase is power. It may be benevolent, but the current prominence and success of Chelsea, an important western cultural asset, is entirely dependent on its Russian owner. That’s power.”

It is an exercise in quietly delivered soft power that is in evidence on Champions League nights at Stamford Bridge. Or rather isn’t in evidence. “He has got a place in London that can be used to entertain very important people – and I mean seriously important – quietly and without scrutiny,” says Prof Chadwick. “It is a place that can facilitate fast track diplomacy. And the Champions League is vital in that, the executive boxes on nights like those are packed with serious people. After all, who turns down a ticket to watch a Champions League game?”

And for the Russian government the Champions League is a particularly significant agent of diplomacy because Gazprom are the competition’s senior sponsors. Indeed the company was about to announce a new agreement to back it when the Super League was unveiled. Making a u-turn and withdrawing his club from the doomed project would not only have pleased the fans waving signs outside Stamford Bridge but could also have been a smart political move, too.

So it is no wonder that Abramovich will be on a high after adding the 2021 title to the Champions League his side secured in Munich in 2012. His team have not only won the trophy that means everything to the club’s supporters but both on and off the pitch this has been a move that has worked out brilliantly for the man at the top.