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Football Reporting

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The highs and lows of his time at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea hit a major landmark in their history on Sunday when the club played their 1,000th match under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

The Russian billionaire bought a controlling stake in the Blues in July 2003 and since then has overseen a dramatic upturn in their fortunes, both on the pitch and in financial terms.

With wonderful timing, game No. 1,000 saw the Blues welcome former boss Jose Mourinho, now manager of rivals Tottenham Hotspur, back to Stamford Bridge for the special occasion. Mourinho is one of 12 coaches (both permanent and interim) to have taken charge of the Chelsea team during Abramovich’s tenure, and one of two coaches to have returned for a second stint, along with Guus Hiddink.

Chelsea’s previous 1,000 competitive outings have produced 608 wins, 216 draws and 176 defeats. That’s a win percentage of 60.8% with Abramovich at the helm, stacking up very favourably against the club’s all-time record of 44.3%. A total of 1,903 goals have been scored (with current manager Frank Lampard scoring 211 of them, more than any other player), with 896 goals conceded.

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Here’s a look back at some of the highs and lows of the Abramovich Years…

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First Premier League title

Despite spending £100 million on new signings, Chelsea still finished runners-up to the Arsenal “Invincibles” in Abramovich’s first tilt at the Premier League in 2003-04 under the management of Claudio Ranieri. However, with Mourinho appointed off the back of winning the Champions League with Porto, the Blues got it right at the second attempt and won their first top-flight title for 50 years with a then-record tally of 95 points. Abramovich’s Chelsea went on to retain their Premier League title in 2005-06, before winning it again in 2009-10, 2014-15 and 2016-17.

Winning the Champions League

It took the best part of a decade, but in 2012 Abramovich was finally able to realise his ambition of Champions League glory. Under caretaker coach Roberto Di Matteo, the Blues beat Bayern Munich on penalties at the Allianz Arena. Thomas Muller put the Bavarians ahead in the 83rd minute only for Didier Drogba to force the tie into extra time with an 89th-minute headed equaliser. Drogba then conceded a penalty during extra time, only for Petr Cech to save Arjen Robben‘s effort, before completing his night’s work by converting the decisive spot kick in the shootout with what was, at the time, supposed to be his final kick for the club.

This all came after a truly memorable semifinal in which Chelsea knocked out defending champions Barcelona over two legs — the second being a fraught skirmish at the Camp Nou which was ultimately settled on away goals thanks to Fernando Torres’ 92nd-minute cavalry charge.

Trophies galore

Since Abramovich took over at the Bridge, no English club have won more major trophies than Chelsea. They have claimed 16 pieces of silverware in that run, starting with a 3-2 win over Liverpool in the 2005 League Cup final. This includes five Premier League titles and one Champions League, as well as two Europa Leagues, five FA Cups and three League Cups. They’ve also won the Community Shield twice, for what it’s worth. The closest rivals to Chelsea’s tally are Manchester United, who have claimed 14 major trophies in the same period of time. In the 20 years before Abramovich showed up, the Blues had claimed two FA Cups and a League Cup, as well as the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997-98.

Frank Lampard’s goal No. 203

On 11 May, 2013, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard finally broke a long-standing club record by scoring a couple of goals in a fairly nondescript 2-1 win over Aston Villa. The second goal was Lampard’s 203rd for the Blues, which took the 38-year-old midfielder past Bobby Tambling to become the club’s all-time top goal scorer.

There was also a lovely moment when Tambling, who scored 202 goals for Chelsea in 370 appearances between 1959 and 1970, presented Lampard with a ceremonial golden boot on the pitch at the Bridge later that month. Lampard went onto add eight more goals to his count before leaving the club as a free agent in 2014.

Big-money signings

Before Abramovich, Chelsea’s transfer record was the £15m they paid Atletico Madrid for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2000. No sooner had he arrived at Stamford Bridge, the Russian broke the club record in his very first window by funding the £17m acquisition of Damien Duff from Blackburn — a feat he has repeated seven times since:

Didier Drogba (£24m from Marseille)
Michael Essien (£24.4m from Lyon)
Andriy Shevchenko (£30m from AC Milan)
Fernando Torres (£50m from Liverpool)
Alvaro Morata (£59m from Real Madrid)
Kepa Arrizabalaga (£71m from Athletic Bilbao)
Kai Havertz (£72m from Bayer Leverkusen)

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According to Transfermarkt, Abramovich has spent over €2.1 billion (£1.88bn, $2.51bn) on more than 400 different transfers during his reign at Stamford Bridge. Since the start of the 2018-19 season alone, the club have spent £448.5m on transfer fees to bring in the likes of Christian Pulisic, Arrizabalaga, Mateo Kovacic, Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner.


Mourinho’s annus horribilis

Mourinho returned to Chelsea in the summer of 2013, reuniting with the likes of John Terry, Lampard, Ashley Cole, Cech,and Essien. The Blues went on to finish third in the Premier League for the second season running, but things improved the following year (2014-15) when Mourinho, whose squad was a mix of seasoned veterans and exciting new additions like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, won the league with three games to spare.

However, things soon turned sour as the 2015-16 campaign got off to a rotten start, with Mourinho losing nine of his opening 16 league games amid an increasingly toxic atmosphere. It proved to be the nadir of his managerial career. The Portuguese was sacked in mid-December with Chelsea in 16th place, just one point above the relegation zone — the final straw being a 2-1 defeat against league leaders and eventual champions Leicester City.

Champions League capitulation

Chelsea, under the interim charge of Avram Grant, scrapped their way through to their first Champions League final in 2007-08 when they faced Manchester United in an all-Premier League affair in Moscow. The dream fell apart at the final hurdle when Terry slipped and failed to convert what would have been the winning penalty in the shootout, which United went on the win in sudden death.

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Chelsea had the chance to redeem themselves the following year after once again battling through to the semifinals, only to once again fall to a late turnaround on one of the most infamous nights of Abramovich’s reign. Andres Iniesta‘s late wonder-strike put Barca through on away goals, but only after Chelsea had a number of penalty claims waved away by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo — who bore the brunt of the rising ire.

Iniesta’s galling 93rd-minute strike preceded a melee that broke out as the final whistle sounded — the enduring image of which being Drogba, wide-eyed and effervescent with rage, repeatedly yelling “It’s a f—ing disgrace” directly down the camera lens as he was forcibly manhandled from the pitch. Barca went on to comfortably beat Man United in the final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, while the Ivorian striker received a six-match ban from UEFA for his unsportsmanlike conduct.

Manager woes

Of the dozen head coaches to work under Abramovich, few have left on their own terms with several meeting the demise of their employment in fairly ignominious circumstances.

Ranieri was the first to bite the bullet under the new administration. The Italian, who was already in situ when the Russian took over, was relieved of his duties mere days after culmination of the 2003-04 season having secured second place — then the club’s highest-ever Premier League finish.

Grant was fired three days after coming within one botched penalty of winning the 2008 Champions League; Andre Villas-Boas failed to reach his first year in charge after falling foul of several senior players; and “Big Phil” Scolari lasted just seven underwhelming months.

However, it was the eternally popular Ancelotti who perhaps suffered the most undignified end to his time in the Blues’ dugout, which came to an end in May 2011 with a 1-0 defeat at Everton. Ancelotti won the Double in his first season at the Bridge but was canned after his second for failing to deliver any further trophies. The call reportedly came down from on high before the former Milan man had time to board the team bus, with the news being broken in a corridor at Goodison less than an hour after the final whistle.

Hit for six

We can’t discuss the lows of the Abramovich era without mentioning his heaviest defeat as Chelsea owner. It came on Feb. 10, 2019 as Maurizio Sarri’s side was obliterated by Manchester City at the Etihad. Sergio Aguero scored a hat trick as City won 6-0, with the home side scoring four of their goals within the first 25 minutes of the match.

Transfer ban

Chelsea were hit with a considerable fine and transfer ban by FIFA in February of 2019 for breaching the rules governing the signing of youth players. The ban initially prevented the club from registering any new players for two transfer windows, though it was later halved to one window on appeal. The Blues were forced to bolster their squad with returning loan players and talent promoted from the youth ranks, and as a result lost ground on some of their league rivals. However, it did also lead to the emergence of academy stars Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi as first-team starters.

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