In 2003, Chelsea rewrote the Premier League’s DNA. Roman Abramovich’s takeover of the club signified a new era of owners in the league.
The legacy left by Abramovich fits in well with the way that the league attempted to change the sport.

Across the history of sport, team owners always contributed to controversies surrounding their teams. Before the Russians, the best example of an owner forever changing the sport was Silvio Berlusconi.

Both owners represented the start of the sportswashing era in football. To be clear, sportswashing has always been around sports. The distinction drawn here is sportswashing in what can be considered the modern footballing era.

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Not only could clubs represent state interests, but other transformations were to take place. Although they may not bring the same baggage, United’s new ownership saw the rise of the league as the perfect chance to squeeze money from their brand. This mixture of controversial owners with a hyperfocus on the profitability of the brand encapsulates the Premier League era.

As much as fans decry the Bohely group, they are the logical extension of what the league became.

By understanding the forces that brought Abramovich to London, we can understand why the Prem is the way it is.

If one is interested in learning the different waves of financial swings in the post-Cold War era, the Prem is a great example. From the post-Soviet Oligarchs to the Gulf states, modern financial history mirrors ownership in the league.

In the direct aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, billions became up for grabs. This era saw the rise of the oligarchs that continue to define modern Russia. Among the mix of those who found wealth was Roman Abramovich.

While we may never know the full extent of how Abramovich rose to the position that allowed him to buy Chelsea. It became the noise that surrounded Chelsea throughout the entire time he owned the club. Winning allowed for the concerns with that noise to be lessened, and luxury clubs like City continued to exploit with less success.

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Contrasting Abramovich with future club owners paints him as a quieter figure who lets the club run well. The Gulf state leaders of City and Newcastle tried to follow the path laid by the Russians but faced more criticism. 

Again, it’s impossible to know Abramovich’s goals with Chelsea, but it certainly separated him from the wealth produced by the end of the Soviet experiment. In fact, most only see him as the man who guided Chelsea towards the top of the football pyramid. Concerns over him never cost him anything until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and even then, fans clamor for his return.

Abramovich’s plan became the blueprint for football club ownership. Deliver wins both on the pitch and in the market, and issues around you dissipate. For as much flak as City catch, they can still portray themselves as a club rather than a state project.

Without Abramovich, it’s not difficult to envision the sportswashing movement blowing up like it did. I’d argue that it’s more part of a movement of capital rather than the actions of one man.

Every new season kept pushing the Prem above all other leagues financially. For capital, this offered a mouth-water opportunity to groups looking to capitalize on the growing league.

United’s situation post-Fergie is perhaps the perfect comparison to Chelsea. While the new owners, in United’s case, didn’t appear until late in Fergie’s time, they are now the symbol of the club. In a way, just as Bohely and Abramovich before him.

Under United’s new ownership group, the same that owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team continues to regress. To be fair to them, they have spent money, maybe not in the best of places, but they do spend at times. The issue stems from the fact that they ignore issues until they have completely taken over.

The issue fans contend is that as the club spirals out of control on the pitch, ownership focuses on the revenue brought in. And for United, it’s quite an amount, considering their willingness to grab any and all sponsors. 

Fans may get annoyed with this, but it’s part of the system, not a glitch in it. Due to this, as long as you stay on top of the flight, you enjoy the luxury of being fawned at by everyone. On the pitch, performances won’t drive away ad money.

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Even as Chelsea flounders, they still find ways to keep the revenue going. City, with its litany of legal issues, is one of the most valuable sports enterprises. Abramovich’s Chelsea paved the path for all these clubs who realize that any project can succeed in this league.

To put it simply, with the system devised by the creators of the league, ownership and play don’t matter. As long as you can find TV networks to pay for broadcasting rights, nothing else matters.

When the Premier League first launched, it was clear that there would be a massive shift in the sporting world. The growth in the league went hand in hand with the profile of new owners flooding the league.
No matter the shift in owners over the next few years, there will always be money to be made in the Prem.

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