Working with Roman Abramovich was quite different to anything I experienced during my time at Arsenal.
When I arrived at Chelsea the president was Ken Bates, who was a well-known figure in the game. But when Abramovich took over, the players, staff and fans were curious because we hadn’t seen this type of billionaire ownership before. Now, in the space of a decade or so, you can see how many billionaires have bought clubs in the Premier League and elsewhere.
When he first came to England, Abramovich couldn’t speak English, so there were always people surrounding him trying to translate. As a result, when we met him it was generally a simple, yes-no conversation; we never got a chance to make a connection with him because of the language barrier.
He also had a background that was mostly outside football, so it was a big contrast between Bates and him. But we all knew even then that, with the financial power he had, a revolution was coming to Stamford Bridge. And that’s what happened.
A lot of players left the club in a short space of time – me included, because I had a lot of injuries and I was 33-years-old. It was a shame for me to finish that way at Chelsea; I just wanted the chance to show Abramovich and others that I still had things to give on and off the pitch. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be.
In those early days, Roman needed to earn the credibility required to run a club like Chelsea. You can’t manage a major company in the same way as a football team: the emotions, the pressure every single day from the fans and the press; these are things you don’t face in the business world. So he had to prove he was the right person for the club.
We all observed his arrival with curiosity. The problem, of course, wasn’t with the money, but rather with adjusting to the new, heightened level of the club. We needed to understand his expectations, though straight away we knew that the competition to earn a place in the first team would be very intense, and that all of a sudden Chelsea existed in a different dimension.
He had a big project, and big targets. He wanted to win the Premier League and the Champions League. It took time for Chelsea to win the latter but he won various titles in the meantime, and eventually got the big prize.
So, after more than ten years of his reign, it seems fair to say that Abramovich has run his club well.
He splashed a lot of money about, but he’s not stupid. They’re still spending the cash, but not in the way they did during his early years. When he first came, he did so in order to show the football world his credentials.
He no longer needs to prove anything.