Special report: Roman Abramovich never hid source of his wealth and was wounded by British governments reluctance to renew visa; transfer ban increases feeling of Chelsea being on hold
In the final minutes of Chelseas crisp win over Crystal Palace in their last home match Frank Lampard put a fatherly arm around 18-year-old Billy Gilmour before sending him scampering on to become the sixth academy graduate to feature in the Premier League derby. At the west London club which first imprinted an oligarchs stamp on English football, Chelseas sparkling, homegrown version this season a club legend appointed as manager promoting young players is the unexpected result of fundamental contradictions running through the club.
The most obvious is that Chelsea have effectively been forced to give these opportunities to teenagers who just months ago were pining for moves or loans to get some playing time. In February Fifa banned the club from making any new signings for two transfer windows after Chelsea were found to have serially breached the registration rules in the ferociously competitive trawl for under-18 players from overseas.
The most striking is that Chelseas owner, Roman Abramovich, the Russian multi-billionaire who has spent 1.125bn in loans on the club since his transformational takeover in 2003, is never at Stamford Bridge these days to see his sparkling team. For 15 years he was welcomed into London and Premier League football, garlanded as his money bought Chelsea stars and trophies, and few questions were asked about him or the source of his billions. Then last year the British government delayed renewing Abramovichs Tier 1 investor visa, as part of its suddenly keen concentration on Russian presence and money in the UK. He appeared to have been caught up in Britains retaliatory action aimed at the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, following the March 2018 outrage, the Novichok poisoning in Salisbury of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.