Chelsea are currently top of the Premier League and clicking well under new boss Antonio Conte. The Italian manager has brought out the best of his troops and has yielded exceptional results, including a brilliant 13-game winning streak that could contribute to his side becoming the most dominant league champions in the Premier League’s history.
And if everything goes to plan this season and for the length of Conte’s stay in London, he could well become the greatest manager in Roman Abramovich’s tenure as Chelsea owner: a 13-and-a-half-year period which has seen many managers come and go. In that same period, Chelsea have seen highs and lows as well as some historic scenes that were never before seen at the club. The Russian billionaire has made Chelsea the brand it is today and there’s a lot to review in his near-decade-and-a-half at the club.
The Best and the Worst
Abramovich’s early ambition at Chelsea was to help the club become a brand like domestic rivals Manchester United and Arsenal and European clubs like Real Madrid. He wanted The Blues to win everything there is to win and nearly 14 years later, he’s done just that. Early on, he saw Chelsea progress, finishing second in the Premier League, a two-spot jump from the previous season and the club’s best league finish in 49 years. The signs of what was to come were already there.
The following season saw Chelsea win their first trophy under the Russian billionaire. The League Cup final in Cardiff saw Chelsea overcome Liverpool in an enthralling game at the Millennium Stadium that finished 3-2. This was followed by an historic league title—only the second in the top division for Chelsea, with their first coming 50 years prior. This allowed the floodgates to open for what would be one of the most dominant phases for a single football club.
Their Premier League success in 2005 was followed by another one in 2006 and an FA Cup win at the new Wembley in 2007. They reached the Champions League final in 2008, in Abramovich’s home country, but Manchester United were able to get the better of them as captain John Terry missed a decisive penalty before Nicholas Anelka saw his saved by Edwin van der Sar to give United the trophy.
Nevertheless, the Chelsea machine didn’t stop and they would win their first league and FA Cup “double” in 2009-10, scoring a record 103 goals in 38 league games and sealing the deal with an 8-0 rout of Wigan Athletic on the final day of the season. They weren’t able to keep it up for long as Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and an emerging Manchester City, who had a new billionaire owner of their own, kept Chelsea out of the title picture for the next four seasons.
But it was in that time that they achieved their greatest success: winning the UEFA Champions League. They beat Bayern Munich at their Allianz Arena home in 2012 in dramatic fashion. Abramovich’s goal had been fulfilled and they were now in the history books of European football.
Things didn’t go to plan the next season as they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages, but they managed to win the Europa League, overcoming Benfica in the final, thus becoming the first club to hold simultaneously UEFA’s primary and secondary club competitions.
In 2015, the Premier League title returned to West London. This came before their shocking defence of it in 2016 where they finished ninth, becoming the worst Premier League title defenders in history. Luckily for them, former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri and his Leicester City side are very likely to beat their unwanted record and spare their blushes as soon as this season.
The Players and Managers
Abramovich is often regarded as Russia’s reply to Florentino Pérez and the man responsible for such inflated fees being paid around for footballers in the modern day. Several of his signings have gone down in history as some of the greatest players to grace England’s pitches. Didier Drogba, Petr Čech and Ashley Cole were just some of the players who arrived amidst the height of his powers and gave Chelsea their first ever Champions League honour in 2012 as well as several other titles that were won in excellent fashion.
He’s also compared to Maurizio Zamparini, the controversial Palermo owner who frequently chops and changes managers, with some of the brightest names in managerial folklore coming in and out of the club. Italian manager and current Premier League champion Claudio Ranieri was the first person to lead his blue troops under Abramovich before becoming incumbent to José Mourinho who, in two spells, would become the club’s greatest manager, winning three Premier Leagues, three League Cups and and FA Cup.
Carlo Ancelotti was the man behind Chelsea’s title dominance of 2010, but he was surprisingly sacked following a string of inconsistent results in the following campaign, and his Champions League-winning manager Roberto Di Matteo was similarly given the boot just five months after that magical night in Munich.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, André Villas-Boas, Rafa Benitez, Guus Hiddink and Avram Grant have had small stints with the club, but the latter three have their own place in Chelsea’s history books. Hiddink had two spells, one in 2009, where he won the FA Cup and one in the second half of the 2015-16 campaign following José Mourinho’s sacking after a disastrous start to the campaign. Benitez propelled the club to their Europa League success in 2013 while Grant, a long-time friend of Abramovic, took Chelsea to their first ever Champions League final in 2008.
Abramovich is responsible for making Chelsea what it is today and under Antonio Conte and a batch of brilliant players, they look set to herald a new era. The club have improved their training facilities, with their Cobham training ground being one of the best in the country, and look set to expand Stamford Bridge into a stadium fit for champions. Some may not agree with the way he’s handled situations, but there’s no doubt that he is a sporting revolutionary.