(JTA) – It only took a few days for the brand-new European Super League to collapse, and its demise can be traced to one man: Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns the British club Chelsea.
The Super League, a proposed breakaway league of 12 of the best European soccer clubs, was announced on Sunday to immediate public outrage. Critics argued that it would drain revenues from Europe’s regional leagues — like the Premier League in England and La Liga in Spain — to consolidate it all in one place, effectively dealing a painful blow to the continent’s hundreds of smaller market teams.
Chelsea was the first to withdraw, closely followed by Manchester City. According to The Athletic, “Chelsea’s decision to leave the Super League was taken by owner Roman Abramovich and the club’s board after witnessing the extremely negative global reaction.”
The negative reaction had been loud and clear, including from Chelsea’s devoted fans, who called the Super League “the ultimate betrayal.”
After Chelsea and Manchester City left, there was immediate increased pressure on the remaining 10 teams to follow suit — including the other four from the Premier League, which have all since pulled out.
A spokesperson for Abramovich told The Telegraph, “Having spoken extensively to fans and stakeholders, we have always worked with the community and we’re not going to do anything that goes against them. We listened and we heard.”
But the fact that it was Abramovich who pulled the trigger based on listening to fans has come as a surprise to many who follow European soccer.
Abramovich purchased the prestigious British club in July 2003 for $190 million, and it’s now valued at around $3.2 billion — making it one of the top 10 highest valued soccer teams in the world. His Chelsea tenure has been marked by a ruthless desire to win at all costs, showing no loyalty to fan favorite managers or players, irking many supporters along the way.
“Abramovich has always run Chelsea to the tune of his own interests,” Liam Twomey wrote in The Athletic on Monday. “Often, when it comes to buying brilliant footballers, cementing the club’s dominance over their biggest London rivals and consistently competing for domestic and European honours, those happen to align with the desires of the club’s fans. But in the moments when they do not, the will of his own mind, and those who advise him, always take precedence over those who watch and cheer for his team.”
Abramovich, 54, is an oil magnate who was born to Jewish parents but orphaned at age 4 and raised by relatives in Russia. His worth is estimated at $15 billion.
After gaining Israeli citizenship in 2018 under the country’s Law of Return, he became the wealthiest person there. (Now he is the second richest after Miriam Adelson, but he reportedly made Israel’s most expensive real estate purchase last year.) Many speculated that Abramovich made aliyah only after his British visa expired and he was unable to travel to Britain to watch Chelsea play.
Many on Twitter called Abramovich an unlikely savior of British soccer.
During his 18 years of Chelsea ownership, Abramovich has used the team to promote causes he cares about, including a much-applauded “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign in 2018. The campaign included funding a mural of three Jewish soccer players murdered at Auschwitz and having players participate in the March of the Living, a global pilgrimage to the same former concentration camp.
“Racism, antisemitism, this is all the same type of evil and should have no place on our world at this day and age,” Abramovich said. “Every time I get sent examples of racist abuse that our players face, I am shocked. It’s disgraceful that this is the reality for not just our players, but for anyone targeted by this sort of abuse. If we as a club can make a difference in this area, in fighting antisemitism, racism and promoting tolerance, I am determined to stand behind it and contribute in whatever way I can.”
Abramovich also believes in investing in women’s soccer, recently calling Chelsea Women “a critical part of Chelsea and shapes who we are as a club. I see no reason why clubs wouldn’t want to support women’s football and provide the best possible opportunity for them to succeed.”