The timing was almost perfect, Arsenal just crowned the Invincibles in 2004 and at the same time, the Russian oligarch known as Roman Abramovich was looking to buy a football club in the Premier League to invest his considerable fortune in.
If that deal had been done then, who knows what Arsenal could have become. They had all the potential to be dominant in the domestic game under Wenger and with the serious investment that the Russian could offer, they would have been in the same bracket as Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Wenger’s team could have been massively strengthened with the biggest names on the planet to challenge for the Champions League. It might have stopped existing players from ending their association with the North London club in search of trophies and greater success.
It’s all ‘if’s, but’s and maybe’s’, but with an estimated personal fortune in the region of £9.5billion, Roman Abramovich was a missed opportunity in several respects.
Like him or loath him, he was single-handedly responsible for the revival of Chelsea after he snapped up the club for a derisory £140m, whilst simultaneously transforming them into a domestic football force in the Premier League as well as in the Champions League. He also is a passionate football fan who isn’t frightened to spend more cash than he has coming in, he’s proved that time and time again.
In the first 5 years, Chelsea lost a total of £447M ($572M) but, that never deterred the Russian from turning Chelsea into a competitive side in the Premier League and Champions League and a financially viable club. It’s now quite the success story because, in January 2019, Chelsea recorded their highest-ever turnover of £443M, a record profit of £62M. The tide is turning with the club notching up a significant profit for the third time in four seasons.
There’s further evidence of Abramovich’s commitment to his club having spent £900m on players and an additional £110.5m in compensation packages to 11 sacked managers. Jose Mourinho collected £31.4m in his two spells with the club, which was allegedly shared with his staff. Former Juventus manager, Antonio Conte was the biggest recipient of the bulging dismissal briefcase, which had £26.6m (for him and his staff )
Arguably, Wenger’s prolonged stay would have continued under the Russian because even success is no guarantee of an extended stay in the dugout. Roberto Matteo was fired after leading the team to FA Cup and Champions League glory in his 8 months in-charge but, it wasn’t enough for the Chelsea owner. In 2013, former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez assured Chelsea of a top-four finish and picked up the UEFA Europa League for his troubles, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the seat.
Even with Wenger’s considerable reputation put to one side, the Frenchman was permitted to establish a power base that Roman Abramovich would have found distinctly unpalatable and one suspects the tensions would have grown fairly quickly. One thing we have learned over many seasons of Abramovich’s rule is there’s only one big cheese at Chelsea and it’s not the manager.
In 2003, it’s claimed that the wealthy businessman inquired about Arsenal and his advisors spoke to some contacts close to the club. The findings were that any bid would have been pointless and that Arsenal’s owners were unwilling to sell at any price. Abramovich also considered buying Tottenham but, according to the book, he took a helicopter ride around the area and decided against it.
However, Vice Chairman David Dein had been looking to bring in an investor and he said at the time that Arsenal may have been not only interested but agreeable to the suggestion.
That makes it even worse because Arsenal failed to kick on from their Invincibles’ success and as Chelsea ascended in the Premier League, Arsenal began to fall away. Wenger was reduced to looking for diamonds in cabbage patches and over the next 15 years, Arsenal gradually went into decline under the frugal and disinterested Stan Kroenke.
Many had hoped for a take-over from silent and isolated shareholder Alisher Usmanov, but Stan Kroenke managed to buy him out for £550m in 2018. Any hope Arsenal fans had that the Uzbekistan businessman would save them from the commercial tentacles of the American sports collector went up in smoke.
The prospect of Roman Abramovich as the owner is initially attractive, but then one realises that Jose Mourinho may well have entered the Emirates and in doing so, he would have managed to destroy the entire football legacy of the club. In that case, let’s count our blessings that the Portuguese manager ended up at a lesser club that hasn’t won trophies and shows no sign of doing so soon with his latest appointment being at Tottenham Hotspurs.