When in Chelsea, do as Roman doesn’t

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

Russian billionaire and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich
Russian billionaire and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich. Photograph: Getty Images

I used to collect stamps, did so for about ten years, spent a fortune on them, always writing in pencil the exact price in code, so my wife would never know how foolish I had been. Then I forg0t the code. So I managed to fool myself, which was useful.

I wonder if Roman Abramovich does the same? Wipes the Chelsea cost from the slate in his mind, so he never has to face up to his own stupidity.

What motivates Roman is one of the mysteries of modern football. He has never given us any clues himself, for he neither explains nor complains; in fact, he never talks at all. He just sits there in his box at Stamford Bridge looking deprived, scruffy, inscrutable and mostly miserable. I’ve seen happier Big Issue sellers. Does he get no pleasure out of owning Chelsea?

It’s just a hobby, a play thing – that’s the usual explanation – an amusement, something to keep him off the streets, away from the women, off the vodka, the drugs or whatever else he might have been tempted by to fill in the long, boring hours when he’s not counting his money.

Another explanation for why people with too much money and not enough sense buy football clubs is that it is an ego trip, a way of showing off to rivals or to gain influence, using ownership of a famous club to gain an entrée to circles they might otherwise not penetrate.

Or he could simply see at it as an investment. It is remarkable how often people buy into clubs, complain it has cost them a fortune, moan about the millions they have lost – all that aggravation when they are only trying to help the community – then suddenly they’re off, very often having made a nice packet. I don’t recall Sam Hammam, Ken Bates or Alan Sugar ending up bankrupt after owning Wimbledon, Chelsea and Spurs.

Abramovich might well be in it for the money, knowing that when he does pack it in some other nouveau riche eejit will appear to take it off him. So he is building up the brand in order to cash in. Could be.

If so, why in his nine years so far, has he not doubled the size of the stadium or moved to a new one? Real Madrid, Barça and Man United have roughly double Chelsea’s piddling crowd. Short-sighted, if you ask me.

Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, di Matteo and Benitez all left Chelsea handsomely rewarded for their brief time in charge. Hold on –Benitez is still there; well, he was when I began this paragraph. But let’s say money is not Roman’s motivation. Unless it’s some complicated tax loss.

Russia with grump

We don’t know his thinking, or his personality, as he gives nothing away, but I would say he doesn’t do emotions. He has no problem sacking the manager every year. They are nothing to him. He pays them off with more than he needs to, so he doesn’t feel like a bastard. And they all know the score.

Does he feel emotion for Chelsea? How could he, coming from Russia? Nobody outside SW6 feels emotion for Chelsea. What about for football in general? That’s harder to work out. He doesn’t appear to have played football when young or to have been involved in any way, before arriving out of the blue at Chelsea.

Apparently, he tells his managers, in that brief moment between being appointed and then never spoken to again, that he likes attractive football. But don’t we all? Not been much of it at Chelsea this season.

Is he a masochist? Like Man City supporters were for decades, rejoicing in their suffering? No, otherwise he would not keep sacking the manager. He clearly doesn’t enjoy their failures. It’s interesting that Chelsea fans are shouting “Rafa out” but not “Roman out”. They are too scared to lose him. But what would happen if he went?

After my ten years in stamps I woke up one day and, for no reason that I can recall, said to myself, “This is really stupid, I am getting so little pleasure out of it. I’m bidding for stuff at auction, for the sake of acquiring, then I’m not even opening the envelopes when the stuff arrives. What’s the point?” So I sold the lot, for a large loss, which we need not go into.

Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, so he’ll have been there a decade next year. Will he suddenly say, “Bugger it, I’ll stick to my yachts, my estates in St Barts and Aspen, my wife’s art collection”? Boats, houses and paintings – they don’t let you down or answer back, not like a football club with its useless managers and ungrateful fans. I predict that next year he will wake up one morning and be off.