Why Roman turned to Bridge rebuilding

The Chelsea revolution: Russian billionaire's right-hand man gives an insight into takeover that is the talk of football
Click to follow

He is 32, he supports Barnet FC, has an O-level in Russian and left Britain a decade ago because there were no jobs. Oh, and Richard Creitzman works for Roman Abramovich and is now a director of his latest plaything, Chelsea, after playing a pivotal role in the arresting takeover of the Premiership club.

There is a new era of glasnost at Stamford Bridge. And Creitzman is able to deliver a fascinating insight into the world and wealth of his "very honest, very direct, very successful, very focused" boss, who arrived at Battersea heliport on Friday morning fresh from a holiday on his yacht - Le Grand Bleu - off the coast of Alaska.

Creitzman acted as interpreter in the subsequent meeting between Abramo-vich (pronounced "a-bram-o-vitch", according to his employee) and Chelsea's manager, Claudio Ranieri. What did they talk about? "He [Abramovich] wants success, a three-nil win at Liverpool," Creitzman jokes, referring to today's opening League match at Anfield, before adding earnestly, "He wants to win."

Not that Abramovich has set targets. "He is in it for the enjoyment," claims Creitzman, who has worked for the billionaire for the past three years as head of corporate finance at his company Sibneft. "If they [Chelsea] are successful then even more reason to stay in it, because he will want to maintain that success. He has not said to me, 'I'm doing this for two years or for 10 years,' it was just, 'I want to buy a football club.' And he has done it. A man who does what he says."

Indeed. Nevertheless, success is something Abramovich is used to. At 36, he is astonishingly, fabulously and, inevitably, suspiciously wealthy through oil, aluminium and other interests. "He is a special guy, but he was in the right place at the right time, as were a number of others," says Creitzman, referring to the post-Soviet privatisations which created oligarchs such as Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Abramovich was also in the right place for Chelsea, who were struggling to control debts of £90m. It was a rapidly constructed deal. Just one offer was made - and it was readily accepted.

Creitzman explains that he and his boss had attended the Manchester United versus Real Madrid quarter-final of the Champions' League last spring, and the bug bit. "He then said, 'Come on and have a look at football', and that was it. From then we started focusing in on what he wanted to do. We set up some meetings, had chats with the banks and they put out some feelers to see what was out there. The banks came back with a definitive report and said this is the story on the three or four clubs that had come through from the discussion process."

The clubs were Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Because of the simplicity of their ownership structure, their location and, frankly, their cut-price status, Chelsea were seen as the best bet. Manchester United were the most serious alternative, but were ruled out.

"It wasn't just the shares," says Creitzman. "He likes London, so that was a plus for Chelsea. Financially it depends how you look at it, but if you are coming in to buy, and someone is in a weaker position, then it is better for you as a buyer.

"They [Chelsea] are in the Champions' League, as are Manchester. They have a good squad, Manchester have a very good squad, as have Arsenal and Newcastle from the teams that were above Chelsea last year. But here is a very strong team. [Carlo] Cudicini, I think, is one of the best goalkeepers in the League. Ranieri is one of the top managers. I am not going to go through the whole team, but there is a very strong side and the people we have bought are very strong and the key thing now is to get them all to gel together."

Ah, team selection. How does Ranieri's relationship with Abramovich work, who is pulling the strings? "There are a lot of discussions with Claudio," Creitzman insists. "Roman knows the players that have come in. He does not know them inside out and tell you how many goals they scored last year. But he watches videos and goes through cassettes on a lot of players. Agents all over have been sending him cassettes, and if Claudio says 'Yes' then they go ahead. Videos get sent to Roman and he talks to Claudio and he talks to other people."

One of those people is Creitzman, a director of Chelsea Limited, now owners of Chelsea, and one of three Abramovich appointees on to the board. "I speak to Trevor [Birch, Chelsea's chief executive] a lot and Roman fairly regularly, and there are a couple of other people involved on the Russian side and they have access to Claudio. And Roman can call up Claudio if he wants to. He's got his mobile number."

That number has probably been dialled rather frequently of late, with eight new arrivals, including Damien Duff - man of the match in the Champions' League qualifier against MSK Zilina on Wednesday - for £17m, Adrian Mutu for £15.8m and Juan Sebastian Veron for £15m.

Is it money well spent? "The players we have bought will play for the club for three, four, five years and I think they will be very successful, and their value therefore will not necessarily fall away," says Creitzman, a banker, before adding: "What we have bought is the entity of Chelsea Village. There are bars, restaurants, a hotel. It is a fantastic venue outside of the football. So if you say are we looking to sell it, we are not, but I think it was a good investment. It is difficult to make money in football. I don't think he [Abramovich] is going to go out of this making billions of dollars because that is not realistic, but I think he wants success."

So what kind of return does Abramovich expect? "I am not going to put a time on it, because he wants to enjoy himself and he would love it to be successful," Creitzman says. "But if they are not successful, then he understands, he has run businesses, he runs a hockey club in Russia. He knows what sport is all about. It is an emotional thing."

His boss, however, is not prone to open displays, and will not be readily visible at Chelsea's matches. "I have never seen him emotional. I don't know him that well, I'm not one of his best friends, but the meetings I have had with him he is very focused, calm and collected, and that is how he is. And that is one of the reasons he has been so successful."

Abramovich is clearly a fan. "He was at the World Cup last year in Japan," says Creitzman. "He went to some of the European Championship games in 2000. Last year Lokomotiv [Moscow] got into the Champions' League so we went to some of those games. He likes his sport."

Still, Creitzman acknowledges, the suspicions over the motives will remain. "He is used to it," Creitzman says, as he is himself. "I get it when I come home too. It was always, 'Here is the dodgy boy from Barnet,' but it's just down to a lack of knowledge about Russia and what has gone on." Not that Creitzman is worried. "I answer to Roman," he says, "not anyone else."