x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Past sins catch up with Chelsea owner Abramovich

It seems fair to assume that the most pressing matter on Roman Abramovich's mind is not the ceaseless trial of Chelsea. He has a far more enervating one of his own.

It seems fair to assume that the most pressing matter on Roman Abramovich's mind is not the ceaseless trial of Chelsea. He has a far more enervating one of his own.

Chelsea's billionaire owner has spent much of November in London's Royal Courts of Justice, attempting to defend an unprecedented private litigation. At stake is US$5.8billion (Dh21.3bn), some 40 per cent of Abramovich's wealth, and a sum that has forced some extraordinary public confessions.

He is accused of coercing two erstwhile allies - fellow Russian, Boris Berezovsky, and the now deceased Georgian, Badri Patarkashshivili - into selling him stakes in oil and aluminium companies at a price billions of dollars under market value.

Abramovich's defence is that his relationship with the pair was not as a co-owner of businesses that mushroomed in value following "friendly" auctions by the post-communist Russian state, but as a purchaser of political and physical protection.

In pages of testimony, Abramovich claims to have made billions of dollars of "krysha" payments to Berezovsky and Patarkashshivili in return for favourable treatment from the Kremlin and what he labels "resolving problems on the ground".

At one point, Abramovich's describes negotiating a fee for the latter service. "[Mr Patarkashshivili] asked me for $700m," Abramovich said. "I thought that was too much but we both knew it was his starting position. My recollection is I offered $400m ... we ultimately compromised on a figure of $540m."

It is as easy to imagine the Russian's frustration with the court proceedings as it has been to observe his anger at his prodigious spending on Chelsea never quite managing to achieve its goal. His problem with Andre Villas-Boas, however, is an unusual one.

Normally, losing to Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and QPR in your first 12 games as Chelsea manager would spell termination.

Villas-Boas was not Abramovich's first choice to succeed Carlo Ancelotti and had not impressed several senior players.

But Villas-Boas knows his employer has invested more than just the €15m (Dh75.75m) it took to buy out his Porto contract. Abramovich has entrusted him with turning over a squad where player power has grown out of control; one that has aged and fallen behind rivals.

Sacking their 34-year-old manager will not change that. Nor will it make it any easier to recruit someone capable of fulfilling one of the hardest job remits in football. Abramovich is paying for the sins of his Chelsea past; just as the courts pore over those in Russia.

sports@thenational.ae