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Abramovich vs FSG: Why Chelsea's owner is far better for the English game

COMMENT: He's never talked about eliminating the League Cup. He's never talked about B teams. Or wiping relegation. He's not even raised winter breaks. So Chelsea fans, indeed English football fans in general, how are you feeling today about Roman Abramovich...?

They're coming for the game at all angles. Last week it was Ferran Soriano, Manchester City's football chief exec. Once of Barcelona. Wagging his finger at English football's pyramid. Claiming it was unsustainable. Raising the prospect of dumping the League Cup. Muddying the lower divisions with Premier League B teams. Basically tearing apart the English game at it's core.

But that was just a precursor to this week's news: Project Big Picture. The brainchild of Liverpool's Boston owners. Seconded by the Glazers of Manchester United. Again, the dismantling of the League Cup. The traditional Community/Charity Shield. Reducing the Premier League to 18 teams. And a concentration of voting power among six clubs. They denied it, but the scrapping of relegation would inevitably find it's way on the agenda.

Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed. This opportunistic power grab, with so many clubs on their knees due to circumstances out of their control, has been cut off at the pass. But the sentiment lingers.

Not Abramovich, nor his surrogates, ever talked like this. It's over 17 years now since the Russian billionaire blew the gates wide open. But he did it in a traditional way. He never sought to clip anyone's wings. To deny them access. Yeah, he spent millions to transform Chelsea's team and the club itself. But he did it with his money. It was his choice. And in all these 17 years, not he nor those closest to him, from Bruce Buck to Eugene Tenenbaum, have ever moaned or complained about the structure of English football.

Indeed, the worst to be leveled at Abramovich were football matters. The stuff of backpages. The hire and fire policy regarding managers. The lack of opportunity for Chelsea's conveyor belt of top academy graduates. Y'know, football issues. The stuff fans like to debate.

Abramovich is a football fan. He bought Chelsea not to make money, but because he's a fan. A very rich fan. A billionaire fan. But still a fan. As this summer's spend proves. He backed his manager, Frank Lampard, because he wants to see Chelsea win. Not for the cash generated from the Champions League, but for the glory, the memories, the silverware. He's a successful businessman, but also a sportsman.

"He's a very calm person, even a little shy, perhaps because of the language," Paulo Ferreira, the former Blues fullback, said this week of the Russian billionaire. "But I was very surprised by the positivity, his way of being, especially when I arrived at Chelsea.

"He watched all the matches, always came to the locker room after the games. He would sit next to us, talk to the players and listen to the conversations.

"Someone very simple, even in terms of clothing. A fantastic person."

John W Henry isn't a football fan. He's involved with Liverpool to make money. That's it. And his FSG resent having to share with others what Liverpool brings to the table. Indeed, if he and his ideas had been around 20 year ago, there wouldn't be the Chelsea that we see today. Competition isn't for the likes of FSG or the Glazers. It's not there to raise your game. It's there to be eliminated. They resent the Leicester Citys. Indeed, the Evertons. Don't believe us? Then let Tom Werner, Liverpool's chairman, detail how they really feel about those they compete with.

Relating their experience with baseball 'franchise' Boston Redsox and Liverpool, Werner stated back in 2012: "We realise we are part of a league, but we feel the burden on the top is higher than appropriate. We feel we deserve the fruits of our labour. That is the difference with the EPL. If we can generate interest in Liverpool here and around the world, we will benefit from that."

But those "fruits" still aren't enough. No, not for FSG. As Aston Villa's chief exec Christian Purslow leveled at Werner in this week's Premier League meeting: 'English football has been good for you - and this is how you repay us?'

English football needs owners who are willing to protect it's traditions. Conserve everything that has made the game the envy of the world. And that includes what happens outside the Premier League. They need fans who want to buy into the game because they love it - and want to be a part of it. Not because they spy a money making opportunity.

Harry Redknapp, the former Tottenham manager, has spoken of being on a scouting mission at one Wolves reserves game. To paraphrase, the crowd was sparse. And he noticed in the warm-up 'a little Asian guy running around collecting loose balls whenever the players miskicked them'. Redknapp, convinced the man was part of the Wolves ground staff, approached him asking who he should see about the player in question. The reply came: 'Well, Mr Redknapp, that might be me, I'm Jeff Shi the owner of this club'.

And that's what English football, especially at this time, needs more of. Again, for all their new found status and power, have Wolves' owners ever complained about the parameters they must work within? Indeed, if FSG and the Glazers had their way, would we have ever seen the great revival of Wolves over these past few years? Would Henry and co even know - or care - about the history of this great, old club?

English football, beyond anyother version in Europe, is at it's heart, aspirational. And like everything, it gets down to individuals. Foreign ownership isn't the problem. A Shi or Abramovich can be as enthusiastic about opportunities English football offers - and the need to protect them - as a Tony Bloom, the Brighton owner.

Abramovich isn't perfect and there are claims of Chelsea being heavily involved in this week's blow-up. One report says Buck, the Blues chairman, is an "advocate" for the scheme, though other sources are insisting Chelsea "have reservations" about the deal. But what can be said is that Chelsea, under Abramovich, have never been a public cheer leader for fundamental changes to the game in England.

It's always been about football. Building teams. Being entertained. This has been the issues around his club these past 17 years. And at the core of all this is the opportunity English football gave Abramovich to create the Chelsea we see today.

Abramovich's motivations to enter English football were nothing like FSG's. Nor the Glazers. He just loved English football. And you hope that sentiment remains today.

Now more than ever, the game needs fans. Even billionaire fans. Just like the Abramovich of 2003.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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