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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 April, 2004, 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK
The oil tycoon tempted by Chelsea
Roman Abramovich
Abramovich is a billionaire several times over
It may be a difficult name to chant, but if Roman Abramovich can divert just a fraction of his wealth into the running of Chelsea football club he may well become the fans' new favourite.

The exact worth of the 36-year-old businessman and Siberian provincial governor is unclear, but it appears that even Chelsea's debts are unlikely to trouble his bank account.

The Sunday Times said he was worth 7.5bn in 2004, putting him top of its 'Britain's Top 10 Richest'.

Abramovich's advisers merely say he's a billionaire several times over and that Chelsea's huge debts are now an irrelevance.

Oligarch

Mr Abramovich lost both parents before he was four years old.

Adopted by his uncle, he then dropped out of college in Moscow before making his first fortune through oil deals in the early 1990s, as Russians took advantage of the artificially high value of the rouble.

In 2000, he gained a law degree from Moscow State Law Academy in less than a year.

He is a quiet, self-deprecating man but he loves the game
Jonathan Clare, PR adviser for Mr Abramovich

He is one of the major shareholders in the Russian oil firm Sibneft, which following a merger with Yukos Oil is the world's fourth largest oil company.

Mr Abramovich also had significant interests in Russia's aluminium industry and and until recently owned a sizeable stake in Russian airline Aeroflot - the sale of which may have funded the Chelsea buyout.

As such, he takes his place among Russia's dozen or so most powerful men, mostly those who made a killing out of the crash privatisation programme that followed the collapse of Communism.

Gold rush

Following the advice of the International Monetary Fund, the government of the day led by Boris Yeltsin sold off dozens of state enterprises, often at knock-down prices and usually to former senior Communist party figures.

The industrial empires then created have dominated Russian business ever since.

Mr Abramovich was too young to have been directly involved in the privatisation gold rush, but one of the biggest players of the day, Boris Berezovsky, took him under his wing and helped him become a top dog in his own right with the purchase of Sibneft.

Mr Berezovsky has since fallen from grace under President Vladimir Putin and is now in exile in the UK, but Mr Abramovich has managed to stay the course, buying up Mr Berezovsky's stake in Sibneft and TV company ORT and surviving investigations into allegations of shady dealings.

The tycoon's interests do not end in the field of commerce. In 1999, he was elected to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma.

He is the governor of the remote province of Chukotka in the north-east of Russia, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska.

Football fan

Jonathan Clare, deputy chairman of Citigate Dewe Rogerson, public relations advisers for Mr Abramovich, said he had run the rule over several clubs before opting for Chelsea.

"This is not a snap decision. His people have been looking at a number of football clubs," Mr Clare said.

"They were looking for a club that was already good but also had the capability for further development to the highest levels of the game."

And in words which could be music to Chelsea fans' ears, Mr Clare said the Russian planned to do "whatever necessary" to take Chelsea to the highest levels in European football.

"Roman gives few interviews," Mr Clare said.

"He is a quiet, self-deprecating man but he loves the game.

"He watches games and watches Chelsea as well as watching football all over the world."



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