AN audience with Roman Abramovich – it’s the golden ticket for any Chelsea supporter and the rarest of prospects for soccer reporters too.
So when I stumbled throughout an impromptu fans’ discussion board with Chelsea’s secretive billionaire ex-proprietor in 2007, it was 1 of the most surreal ordeals I have at any time experienced.
Basically surreal, in that it was so not likely, I wondered whether or not I’d dreamt it.
Abramovich gave one particular interview to the Economical Moments all around the time of his 2003 Chelsea takeover – when the young oligarch induced a sensation by becoming the to start with foreigner to just take around a Leading League club.
In the intervening many years, he has by no means spoken to a different media outlet… but on a weird evening in Valencia, I fluked it.
Just a fortnight after Jose Mourinho’s initial Stamford Bridge sacking experienced prompted outrage between supporters, Chelsea travelled to Valencia for a Champions League team stage match.
The Blues obtained a 2-1 victory which was anything of a breakthrough for the Unique One’s alternative Avram Grant.
Sometime about 1am, I arrived back again at the Valencia Hilton, hoping for a swift nightcap at the bar.
There, I learned Abramovich – flanked by his then-fiancee Dasha Zhukova, his ideal-hand guy Eugene Tenenbaum and a couple of henchmen.
They were being standing in the bar, holding court docket with a team of 7 or eight Chelsea supporters, consuming bottled beers.
Stung by the response to the dismissal of a boss who had received Chelsea back again-to-back Leading League titles, Abramovich experienced been on a small allure offensive.
On the preceding Saturday, Grant’s initially residence match in charge, the Russian experienced sat in the higher tier of The Shed along with the rank-and-file, for a dismal goalless draw in opposition to neighbours Fulham.
But in Valencia he had taken the remarkable phase of telling Tenenbaum to go and discover him a bunch of Chelsea supporters so he could individually describe his conclusion to sack Mourinho and appoint Grant, an Israeli then just about unheard of in England.
Chelsea’s gamers and hierarchy experienced stayed at the Hilton on the eve of the match but Grant and his squad had flown straight back to London immediately after that Wednesday night match.
The lodge was a few of miles outdoors the busy town centre, so seemingly it hadn’t been straightforward for Abramovich’s minders to spherical up any of the 1,200 travelling supporters.
Primarily as the greater part of all those asked if they ‘fancied a drink on Roman Abramovich’ had – very understandably – assumed the offer you was a hoax and carried on to locate a beer in other places.
But the blessed couple of – and me, the unwitting gatecrasher – were offered the rarest insight into Abramovich’s thoughts.
Speaking fluent English in a slender, reedy voice, Abramovich told them: “I like Jose and will often enjoy him since of what he did for Chelsea – but nobody is larger than the club.
“I comprehend that you are upset he has long gone but things experienced not been suitable for some although and the time was proper for a modify.
“I want you to trust me that Avram is the suitable gentleman and he is a long lasting appointment.
“There will be much more additions to the coaching squad but Avram is right here to stay.
“You could see tonight in opposition to Valencia we even now have a wonderful spirit in our crew.”
Abramovich is not an imposing man, somewhat designed and with no obvious charisma.
But he listened to people supporters who attempted to inform him Mourinho deserved extra time, then insisted they would recognize his decision significantly far better experienced they been knowledgeable of the comprehensive image.
Their chat experienced started off late and finished when the bar shut at 1.30am.
I listened to the bulk of it and spoke to the supporters to get the whole story.
Abramovich posed for photos with them and then headed for bed, with Zhukova.
I took the raise with the couple, but when I tried to interact him in discussion, Abramovich was in no mood to elaborate even further.
Nonetheless, this was not a bad very little story to stumble throughout, particularly as I experienced only been doing the job for the newspaper which then used me for a lot less than a thirty day period.
The following morning, just before heading to the airport, I rang my sports editor and informed him I experienced some exceptional Abramovich offers.
Specified that these had been like hen’s enamel, and my manager didn’t know me perfectly, he responded with the terms ‘f*** me, Kiddo, pull the other one’.
Then he asked no matter if I was selected I hadn’t been duped by the pretty convincing Abramovich lookalike, who was at times employed by The Solar all through the early portion of the Russian’s reign.
I replied that the Abramovich lookalike did not tend to hold out with a Zhukova lookalike, a Tenenbaum lookalike and a couple of Bond villain lookalikes.
Anyway, we ran the tale, and Grant proved to be as long term as any other Chelsea manager.
He lasted nine months and led the club to their to start with Champions League last, shedding a penalty shoot-out to Manchester United in Moscow.
Abramovich was real to his term about his enduring admiration for Mourinho – reinstating the Portuguese boss in 2013.
Jose would acquire a different title before he was sacked once more with the Blues in a legitimate relegation battle in December 2015.
I was reminded of that twilight-zone tale when Abramovich triggered fury among supporters by firing a further club legend, Frank Lampard in 2021.
Then, in the course of the pandemic and a visa concern, Abramovich turned a lot more remote and elusive than at any time.
And, of program, with sanctions put he was pressured to offer up to Todd Boehly – as a new period at Stamford Bridge starts.
It was straightforward to visualize him as an unseen God-like determine, striking down managers with out mercy.
Still there was a tiny part of him which did appear to be to care about his personal acceptance with Chelsea supporters.
And he proved it on that strange evening in Valencia.