Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has a taste for the best things in life – from football clubs to superyachts, and his beloved Boeing 767 dubbed The Bandit. P1 profiles the private billionaire at the start of a new soccer season.
Imagine a typical scene on the small Scottish Isle of Arran of a man taking his dog for a morning stroll. The Corgi trots along next to his casually dressed owner, but they are not alone.
Five burly bodyguards are also along for this walk, even though the village they are visiting is home to just 250 people and hardly a crime hotspot. The man walking the dog is not a head of state or world leader, but multi billionaire Roman Abramovich – most well known these days as the owner of Chelsea Football Club.
The Russian oligarch, with an estimated net worth of more than US$8 billion likes to keep a low profile – hence holidaying in remote parts of Scotland, accessible from his US$500 million superyacht, Eclipse.
Abramovich’s travel itinerary to Arran was typical. He flew by private jet to Glasgow airport, then by private helicopter to Eclipse. The 533-foot yacht has two helipads, two swimming pools, a mini submarine and 24 guest cabins.
Dubbed ‘Abramovich’s Navy’, Roman also has two other luxury yachts – the 256-foot Titan and 162-foot Sussurro. Unsurprisingly, he is the biggest spender on luxury superyachts, and previously also owned Pelorus, Le Grand Bleu, Ecstasea and Luna.
His taste in private jets is just as luxurious and refined. Rather than having his name emblazoned down the fuselage, Donald Trump style, Abramovich’s Boeing 767-33A looks suitably low-key for a man not looking to attract attention. The interior, however, is less understated, reportedly finished with flourishes of gold and chestnut. The aircraft – nicknamed The Bandit – can usually be found parked at the Harrods FBO at London’s Stansted airport. The estimated cost of the aircraft was a relatively modest (for Abramovich) US$170 million. He also owns a Dassault Falcon 7X.
The story behind Abramovich’s fortune is a colourful one. Following a brief time in the Soviet Army, he worked as a street trader and mechanic. At one stage, the story goes Abramovich was selling imported rubber ducks from his Moscow home.
Clearly Roman had an entrepreneurial spirit and the onset of perestroika in 1988 opened new doors. After setting up a company with his first wife making dolls, he diversified into everything from pig farms to tyre retreading businesses.
As the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, this opened up further opportunities that would transform Abramovich from businessman to billionaire. The single biggest deal was in 1995 when Abramovich and business partner Boris Berezovsky acquired the controlling interest in oil company Sibneft. That deal saw Sibneft sold for a reputed price of just over US$100 million, while analysts believe its actual value was an astonishing US$2.7 billion.
Abramovich’s rise was phenomenal. By 1996, aged 30, he moved into an apartment in the Kremlin at the invitation of then President Boris Yeltsin. Moving in lofty political circles became second nature to Abramovich, and he was elected governor of the Chukotka province in 1999.
It is also believed that Abramovich recommended Vladimir Putin to Yeltsin as a potential successor, and Abramovich has remained politically close to Putin.
Abramovich’s rapid rise was not without controversy, but this has not hampered his continued business success.
“I have no Napoleonic dream,” said Abramovich. “I’m just hard-working and pragmatic.”
This appetite for success is reflected in Abramovich’s ongoing stewardship of Chelsea Football Club.
The Russian took over the London club in 2003 and transformed its fortunes, boosted by the billionaire’s seemingly bottomless pockets. In fact, many football observers say Chelsea’s spending under Abramovich helped to fuel the inflated transfer fees that we see today.
However, there is no doubting the success that this spending brought. For his second season at the helm, Abramovich brought in manager Jose Mourinho – fresh from winning the Champions League with the unfancied Porto.
“The goal is to win,” said Abramovich. “It’s not about making money. I have many much less risky ways of making money than this. I don’t want to throw my money away, but it’s really about having fun and that means success and trophies.”
Under Mourinho – the self-proclaimed Special One – Chelsea won their first league title for 50 years in the 2004/5 season. They went on to retain their title the following season, won the illustrious Champions League in 2011/12, as well as two more league titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Charity Shields and the Europa League.
Following a disastrous season last year, which saw the club floundering under previous magician Mourinho before he was sacked, Abramovich has once again made a shrewd managerial appointment – hiring former Italy and Juventus boss Antonio Conte.
The feisty Italian was quick to spend Abramovich’s millions ahead of the new Premier League season which kicked off on 13 August, and his team started well with two tight wins in the opening two matches. Conte will be tasked with improving considerably on the 10th place finish Chelsea managed last season..
Abramovich has a ruthless reputation when it comes to his football managers, and success is certainly no guarantee of survival, especially with high-profile appointments this summer – Pep Guardiola to Manchester City and former favourite Mourinho to Manchester United.
People have been quick to revel in the fact that money cannot buy, or guarantee, success on the football field, and Abramovich probably feels the need for trophies more than most owners.and he is closer than some owners to the reaction of the fans.
“I’m realising my dream of owning a top football club,” he said. “Some will doubt my motives, others will think I’m crazy.”