Mother Russia Gives EPL a Sugar Daddy 

Mother Russia Gives EPL a Sugar Daddy

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

And they don't look like Anna Kournikova! But they're going to England, not America! And they're being welcomed by forlorn British soccer fans like they??????re the second coming of Churchill! And they're billionaires! But they came into their fortunes illegitimately (according to Russian President Vladimir Putin)! And right now, there's only one of them!

His name is Roman Abramovich. He is 36 years old, worth an estimated $5.7 billion, and, since buying Chelsea of the Premier League in July, more popular in London than a pro bono orthodontist. Abramovich, who until recently held large interests in Russia's largest oil, aluminum, and car companies and is governor of a province in Siberia, has adopted the Mark Cuban-style of ownership during his short reign at Chelsea, letting the money fly like ICBMs and targeting some of the best names in soccer. The team bought French defender Claude Makelele from Real Madrid, Argentine defender Juan Sebastian Veron from hated rival Manchester United, Russian midfielder Alexei Smertin, and forward Damien Duff.

So far, Abramovich's mercenary red army has been an outstanding success. Chelsea is currently second in the EPL, one point behind league-leaders Manchester United, and a recent victory over the Red Devils proved Abramovich's club has a good shot to win its first championship in 55 years. He is also interested in buying the Vancouver Canucks and a Formula 1 racing team.

Yet while he is revered by soccer fans in London, Abramovich is one Roman who has few friends among his countrymen (at least those in the Kremlin). In Russia, he is considered by many (including President Putin, significantly) to be an oligarch who were given the reins to the country's vast resources and industries (which were ownerless in the nascent, post-Soviet Russia) for nothing more than their connections and political allegiance to the drunkard President Boris Yeltsin. Plus, some of the oligarchs, but not Abramovich, broadcasted anti-Putin news reports on their television stations.

The Russian President, a former KGB agent, has reacted by prosecuting the oligarchs involved with Russia's biggest oil company for tax evasion. In October, the government arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the company's chairman as well as Russia's richest man (Abramovich is the second richest), a potential political opponent to Putin, and Abramovich's mentor and business partner. It is suggested that Abramovich may be next on Putin's hit list.

Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea and his recent unloading of his $5.2 billion stake in Russia's top aluminum company suggest that he is trying to avoid Khodorkovsky's fate by fleeing the country, and other oligarchs, facing the same threat, might try the same. It has already been rumored that another of the oligarchs might buy the severely cash-strapped Leeds club, which appears headed for relegation the First Division and is $200 million in the red (Abramovich erased Chelsea's $130 million in debts when he took over).

So Putin's prosecution of the oligarchs appears to be good news for English soccer fans.

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Sun Oct 16, 2005 12:19 am MST by Lakers Tickets

Comment Jack, this is without a doubt one of your best and most-well-researched columns. Like the first one you wrote, this in it's way is a classic. I will make sure others see this.

Sun Dec 21, 2003 10:58 pm MST by Zennie

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