Chelsea vs Real Madrid: a tale of two powerful characters | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW
The cameras can focus on Thomas Tuchel and Zinedine Zidane at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, but the short-lived European Super League has shone the spotlight on the handful of men who really control Europe’s biggest clubs.
Two of them are Real Madrid and Chelsea, and both were founding members of the ill-fated Super League. But the two powerful men behind them, Real president Florentino Perez and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, have very different reasons for getting involved in elite European football,
While Perez was considered one of the main architects of the Super League coup, Chelsea and Abramovic were among the first to announce their departure, sparked by fan protests outside their stadium.
Good cop, bad cop? Not enough; Abramovich is not normally an owner who seeks a close relationship with his club’s fans, despite his popularity. And while Perez is a powerful president-elect, he doesn’t actually own the club he runs.
The two have very different views on the game – although both ultimately pursue the same prize.
Coincidentally, these two billionaires began to seek careers in engineering. A civil engineer by training, Perez entered politics as a Madrid city councilor and as a candidate for the Spanish general election before entering the construction industry. He is currently president and co-owner of ACS, one of the world’s leading construction companies. His net worth is estimated at $ 2.2 billion (€ 1.8 billion).
Abramovich also pursued an engineering degree and, after a brief stint in the Soviet Army, began his entrepreneurial journey by selling rubber ducks from his Moscow apartment.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he acquired 51% control of the oil company Sibneft for $ 110 million in a series of qualifying transactions in 1997. Eight years later, he sold his participation in Gazprom for a little over 13 billion dollars.
The companies of Perez and Abramovic have long been closely tied to politics in their respective countries. Abramovich had close ties to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and quickly aligned himself with Vladimir Putin to avoid a crackdown on the oligarchs after Yeltsin resigned in 1999. Abramovich admitted in a UK court in 2008 to having paid billions of dollars in so-called “krysha”. or protection money.
Meanwhile, ACS de Perez regularly won government construction contracts in Spain, especially while José María Aznar was prime minister. As president of Real Madrid, he controversially oversaw the € 500million sale of the club’s training ground, the site of which later became the city’s new financial district, where his company won d ‘other major construction contracts.
What is the motivation?
It follows that the duo’s motivations for leading their respective clubs are not entirely altruistic or solely due to a burning passion for football.
The prime ministers aren’t the only high profile guests Perez has brought to the Madrid games. On match days, he uses the Santiago Bernabeu as a networking platform to make business deals inside and outside the football world. Perez’s position at Real gives him quasi-diplomatic immunity, and he once allegedly told Socialist Party politician Matilde Fernandez that “Real Madrid are a Spanish brand above the government”.
As for Abramovich, it has been speculated that his purchase of Chelsea in 2003 may even have been motivated by boredom. After all, a man with a net worth of $ 15 billion doesn’t buy a notoriously capital-consuming item like a football club to make more money.
“I don’t think the takeover was particularly motivated by making money,” Dan Silver, spokesperson for the Chelsea Supporters Trust, said DW. “Maybe he wanted to buy himself a nice set of toys, but he’s so secretive, everything about him is guesswork.”
The first leg ended 1-1 in Madrid
Abramovich himself recently told Forbes that his motivation for buying a football club stemmed from a fascination with the unpredictability of the game.
“The fact that there is no fixed formula for winning football matches,” he said. “There was so much emotion, so much excitement. I remember thinking, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ I enjoyed, and still enjoy, the unpredictability and seeing how each game plays out. “
Abramovic is not the only wealthy Russian to buy top cultural goods in London.
In September 2018, the Russian State Federal Statistics Service found that Russian investors controlled UK assets worth $ 3.5 billion. The UK’s Office of National Statistics has put the figure at over $ 25 billion. According to figures reported by The Guardian in 2018, including Russian money arriving in the UK via offshore locations such as the Cayman Islands, it amounts to nearly $ 70 billion. In fact, French economist Thomas Piketty has estimated that more than half of the wealthiest Russians’ total wealth – around $ 800 billion – is held outside of Russia.
A recent survey of Time revealed that Abramovich himself owns property in the UK worth over £ 200million, in addition to his £ 1.3 billion investment in Chelsea since 2004.
In May 2018, after tensions between the UK and Russia delayed the renewal of his visa, Abramovich withdrew his application and has since acquired Israeli citizenship.
At first glance, Real Madrid’s ownership structure resembles the German 50 + 1 model. They remain one of four Spanish clubs exempt from a 1990 law requiring all sports clubs to become private CLPs. Being owned by its fans also gives them a 5% tax break over their competition.
The so-called “socios”, paying members of which there are more than 90,000, officially own the entire club and can vote in the presidential elections. A representative “membership assembly” of 2,000 deals with more complex matters such as approving the club’s budget and has the power to discipline the president.
And becoming president is not a simple task. There are a number of restrictive limits for running for office, including the personal guarantee of 15% of the club’s budget. During his 18 years at the helm, Perez made a number of rule changes designed to make it difficult to challenge his power. For example, a presidential candidate must now be an active member for 20 years, unlike the previous 10-year requirement.
It’s a bit easier for Abramovich. He bought Chelsea in 2003 for an estimated € 160million, at the time a record Premier League selling price. Since the buyout, the club’s value has skyrocketed to around $ 3.2 billion, according to “Forbes.” The club had been listed on a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange and Abramovich had to buy out many shareholders to take over Chelsea in private ownership. He now owns the entire club (with the exception of the pitch and club name) and is the sole shareholder.
While the two share the will to spend big in the transfer market, Chelsea have tended to focus on emerging talent and the odd big name. Perez, for his part, was responsible for launching the “Galacticos” era in the early 2000s, bringing figures like Luis Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham to the Bernabeu. Fast forward to 2021 and Perez has admitted he’s aiming for Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland in the next transfer window.
Florentino Perez (right) bought Zinedine Zidane as ‘Galactico’ and later appointed him coach
The two men take even more contrasting approaches to their public image. Perez has never shied away from announcing his plans to the press or seeking photo ops with the rich and famous. In Madrid, he is rarely criticized by local journalists and Perez is always on hand when Real sign a new player.
The price of fame
In contrast, Abramovich avoids the limelight. In fact, in an interview with Forbes, he hinted at some regret about the fame his purchase had brought him. And, although Abramovich regularly attends home games ahead of his visa woes, he doesn’t seem willing to show himself as the face of the club.
“Roman didn’t anticipate the attention he received,” says Silver. “I shook his hand once on the ground and he was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I only heard him speak once.”
Despite the secrecy, he remains extremely popular among Chelsea fans.
“He’s been a great owner for us,” says Silver. “He has transformed the club and is arguably one of the best owners in football. You saw what it means for him to win the Champions League in Munich. [in 2012]. He’s a fan and he has done a lot of good in the community, especially during the pandemic. ”
Perez showed himself to be definitely out of touch with the fans during the Super League debacle. While Chelsea, following fan protests outside their stadium, were one of the first clubs to announce their intention to drop the project, Perez remained defiant.
The Super League was his idea, his solution to his club’s immense financial problems and a way to prevent Real from falling behind other European behemoths in the transfer market. He refused to concede defeat, hoping the project will stay on hiatus until the others come to their senses. This position has earned him criticism from Real fans online, but it remains unlikely that he will step down of his own accord or even see his power challenged at the club.
Despite their joint involvement in the Super League, the two have always made winning the Champions League their top priority. When the two teams meet in the spotlight in London on Wednesday, there will be only one winner on the pitch.
But history suggests that the two men pulling the strings will eventually win out regardless.
Editor’s Note: This article was amended on May 6, 2021 to clarify the details of the acquisition of Sibneft by Mr. Abramovich in 1997 and his purchase of so-called “krysha” protection in Russia. A previous version of the article also incorrectly stated that Mr Abramovich had an official residence in London and suggested that his purchase of Chelsea had nothing to do with an interest in football, which Mr Abramovich himself denies.