Russian money going out, Saudi money coming in.
Sunday’s match between Chelsea and Newcastle has been called the “despot derby” and was won by the London team 1-0.
Chelsea are a hard-pressed club since Roman Abramovich was disqualified as owner – while Saudi-owned Newcastle are seen as a classic example of sportswashing.
The match was Chelsea’s first at home since the club suffered sanctions in the wake of Russian ownership.
On the surface, most things were the same. Despite the fact that no new match tickets can be sold anymore, it was packed at Stamford Bridge, perhaps for the last time this season. Those who bought tickets before March 10 had the right to go to the match, as did the 28,000 season ticket holders.
But no Roman Abramovich sat in the stands, he is forbidden to stay in Britain.
For 19 years, the Russian oligarch has owned Chelsea FC. Roman Abramovich was one of the first foreign billionaires to take over a Premier League club – and has been followed by several. During his years at Chelsea, the club has won the league title five times and won the Champions League twice, most recently last year.
In early March, a few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Abramovich stated that he wanted to sell the club and that the profits would go to the victims of the war. But on Thursday, his assets were frozen in the UK and thus he was stopped from selling the club. The reason, according to the British government, is that through his relationship with the Russian government and President Putin, he has gained several benefits over the years.
In recent days, however, the government has opened up to make a sale of the club possible. Potential buyers include Liverpool’s former owner Sir Martin Broughton.
At the same time, Chelsea FC have received financial sanctions against them. Transfer stops apply and the club is not allowed to sell match tickets. Only those with season tickets can watch the home matches, except for those who had time to buy a single ticket before 10 March. TV revenues are frozen, souvenir sales are stopped and the travel budget for away matches has been cut.
Even worse for Chelsea is that the big sponsor, the telecom giant 3, has chosen to drop out of the collaboration, as has Hyundai.
Chelsea also risk losing prize money from the Premier League and Uefa. A third place in the Premier League, where Chelsea are currently located, is worth 34 million pounds.
Manager Thomas Tuchel has had to devote press conferences to answering questions about the war, Abramovich and the sanctions.
– I drive the bus to Lille if I have to, he joked after the victory and referred to Wednesday’s match against Lille in the Champions League.
During the last match against Norwich on Thursday, parts of the visiting fans chanted “Abramovich”. But ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Newcastle, Chris Philp, the Home Office minister, urged fans not to shout the Russian’s name.
“I want to ask them to think very carefully before doing it again, because the barbaric acts that Putin’s regime is carrying out, and that Abramovich has supported, are far more important than football,” said Philp.
That it was Newcastle who were on the other side in Chelsea’s first home game after the sanctions is ironic.
Newcastle United have been in focus since the Saudi investment fund PIF in October stepped in as the main owner of the club.
PIF is estimated to have a net worth of £ 320 billion, which means that Newcastle now have by far the richest owner in the Premier League.
The chairman of PIF is Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, who in practice is the leader in Saudi Arabia, a country that is regularly accused of human rights violations.
Critics say that leaders in strict regimes invest in football clubs to shift focus from issues such as human rights and oppression, so-called sportswashing.
Mohamed Bin Salman has also been singled out by foreign security services as being involved in the planning of the assassination of regime-critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Bin Salman has denied any involvement, but according to a UN report, the Saudi state is responsible for the assassination.
On Saturday, the Saudi state-controlled news agency announced that 81 people, convicted of, among other things, terrorist crimes, had been executed during the day.
But many fans have cheered over the change of ownership, including Newcastle player Alan Shearer. And Newcastle have changed a relegation spot to safer ground in the Premier League table.
Financial Fair Play regulates how much a club may recruit, but Newcastle will reportedly be able to spend SEK 2.3 billion over a three-year period.
The match in London was a real sleeping pill where very few goal chances were created. Newcastle stood up strongly on the away field and showed that it is a completely different team than just a few months ago.
Most spoke for 0-0 – but then Kai Kavertz struck for Chelsea in the 89th minute. He took down a post with his left foot and eased in 1-0 behind Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
Chelsea, who have not yet replaced the 3-logo on the players’ chests, had a big game advantage but scored the goal on their only second shot on goal.