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Page last updated at 05:37 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 06:37 UK

Roman's Moscow homecoming

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich

By Andrew McKenzie

What do you give the man who has everything?

For Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, how about a Uefa Champions League final in his home town of Moscow?

Premier League titles, FA and League Cups are one thing but Europe's holy grail is something altogether more dear to his heart.

It was a Champions League thriller between Real Madrid and Manchester United in April 2003 that was said to have first triggered his urge to splurge on a football team.

It hasn't come cheap but five years after his initial purchase of 140m and more than 450m worth of further investment, he is close to seeing a payback on his expenditure.

Victory over United at the Luzhniki Stadium in the city that Abramovich considers his home would provide a triumphant conclusion to a difficult season.

Knocked out of the FA Cup by Barnsley, a League Cup final defeat at the hands of Tottenham and being pipped to the title by Manchester United for the second year running are not the sort of results demanded by this most ambitious of oligarchs.

Manchester United are the most famous team in Russia but Chelsea is maybe not far behind

Russian journalist Igor Schveitzer

Off the field he went through a well-publicised and costly divorce in 2007 and is now fighting off a 2bn compensation claim from his former business partner Boris Berezovsky.

It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for Europe's eighth richest man and his three yachts, several helicopters, bullet-proof limousines and model girlfriend.

His decision in August to sack the popular Jose Mourinho and replace him with close friend Avram Grant, seemingly over a lack of style, brought him into conflict with Chelsea's fans.

A win over United on Wednesday and he might be forgiven for dispensing with the most successful manager in the club's history.

Not that the publicity-shy Abramovich will be too worried about his popularity rating.

His win-at-any-cost ways have earned him few admirers in English football, where Chelsea have replaced Manchester United as the country's biggest spenders as well as arguably the nation's most disliked club.

In his homeland, his rise from plastic duck salesman to multi-billionaire seemingly does not sit well with your average Russian.

"Mr Abramovich is a controversial figure and I'm not sure he's very popular with the common people," said Igor Schveitzer, a football correspondent with Radio Liberty.

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH FACTFILE
Born: 24 Oct, 1966 in Saratov, Russia
Childhood: Orphaned at the age of three, he grew up in the Komi region before moving to Moscow
Houses: Moscow, London, Sussex and Colorado
Marital status: Twice married (second wife Irina was granted a divorce in February 2007)
Children: Five (living in London)
Estimated net worth: 11.7bn (Sunday Times Rich List, 2008)
"Those billionaires came out of nowhere and it was quite a surprise for most of the population that lives quite poorly to see such wealth earned with the people's money."

Others, who would prefer not to be named, described the general feeling towards Abramovich as "hatred" and "loathing" at the way he and fellow compatriots cashed in on the selling-off of the country's national industries.

Despite the increased public profile that comes with the ownership of a Premier League club, Abramovich remains a mysterious character.

He rarely gives interviews, avoids publicity like the plague and, despite five years in the spotlight, little is known about his character.

The secrecy with which he leads his life makes working out the fact and fiction of his goings-on a tricky business, never mind deciphering what you can and cannot print about his business dealings.

Gennady Federov, a sports journalist for Reuters based in Moscow, said: "A lot of what the press write are rumours and what they think he is like because nobody really is close to him so nobody knows for sure.

"But anyone who makes as much money as Roman is viewed as shrewd and a very good businessman. When Russia was in transition from socialism to capitalism he was a smart guy to foresee how to make his money."

His spokesman John Mann, who has known Abramovich for five years, says much of what is written about him is incorrect.

Roman Abramovich (right) with new girlfriend Daria Zhukova
Abramovich's new girlfriend joined him for Chelsea's final league game of the season

He describes him as "very intelligent, with a good sense of humour and a football fan", adding: "It's just Roman, he's just a guy."

Abramovich bankrolls the Russian National Football Academy, which not only pays for the contract of national team coach Guus Hiddink but has built over 50 football pitches as well as training facilities for youth sports programmes.

He also built a new training centre and arena for the Avangard Omsk ice hockey team.

But he has also been criticised for buying Chelsea and not Russian football club, although Mann says it was an idea he explored.

However, Abramovich has found one place in the world where money can buy you love.

He is adored in the Chukotka region that occupies the barren far north-east of Russia where he has been governor since 2000.

Chukotka lies nine time zones from Moscow and is about as far away from the world of Premier League football and all its excesses as you are likely to get.

Abramovich is said to have ploughed hundreds of millions of pounds into improving the standard of living in the area.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Jonathan Stevenson

Mann said: "Roman has entirely changed the lives of over 50,000 people in his province. He has built houses, schools, hospitals, youth centres, kindergartens, an airport and in the capital they even have a movie theatre with Dolby surround sound."

Abramovich's money has had almost as dramatic an effect over at Stamford Bridge, changing the lives of 40,000 Chelsea fans.

But the 41-year-old has been a notable absentee from the stands in recent months, prompting suggestions his interest in Chelsea was waning and this could prove a good time to go out.

Mann describes such suggestions as "rubbish", revealing that "increased commitments" in a Russian general election year have been behind his non-attendance.

At least the final in Moscow is only a limousine ride away.

But can he count on the hometown support that will turn Red Square into Blue Square?

Federov stated: "Chelsea was just an outsider until Roman bought the team and attracted a huge fanbase and it has been growing ever since."

Schveitzer added: "Manchester United are the most famous team in Russia but Chelsea is maybe not far behind."

They will move a step closer to Abramovich's drive for global domination should they overthrow their rivals this week.




see also
Man Utd v Chelsea
19 May 08 |  Europe
Chelsea and Man Utd set for final
20 May 08 |  Football
Chelsea to sign 16.2m Bosingwa
12 May 08 |  Chelsea
Grant confident his job is safe
02 May 08 |  Chelsea
Title race photos
11 May 08 |  Football
Barnsley 1-0 Chelsea
08 Mar 08 |  FA Cup
Tottenham 2-1 Chelsea
24 Feb 08 |  Football
Chelsea boss Abramovich divorces
14 Mar 07 |  UK News
Chasing 'Mr Chelski'
24 Aug 03 |  From Our Own Correspondent
From Chukotka to Chelsea
02 Jul 03 |  Fun and Games
The oil tycoon tempted by Chelsea
17 Apr 04 |  Business
Russian businessman buys Chelsea
02 Jul 03 |  Business
Ronaldo ends Man Utd dream
23 Apr 03 |  Champions League


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