Roman Abramovich and Chelsea: it’s all dad’s fault

Feb 10, 2009
Coline Covington

The Chelsea owner appears to be motivated in business dealings by feelings of abandonment, says psychoanalyst Coline Covington

Another Chelsea Football manager bites the dust under the reign of Roman Abramovich. First there was Claudio Ranieri, then Jose Mourinho, then Avram Grant and now Luiz Felipe Scolari, each of them an expensive mistake.

The Russian billionaire has spent roughly £600m on Chelsea since he acquired it in 2003. Why is he pouring all this money into a football club - and why can't any of the managers get it right, at least in the eyes of Abramovich?

His other spending habits - building an art collection with works by Bacon, Freud and Giacometti, and helping his 26-year-old girlfriend Dasha Zhukova open her contemporary art gallery in Moscow - suggest a midlife crisis. Or is there something more complex going on?

It is loss that Roman Abramovich seems to be so anxious about

A snapshot biography of Abramovich reveals that his mother died when he was one and his father was killed when he was three. Terrible losses for a small child to endure.

He was then taken care of by two uncles and his grandmother in various households, not doing particularly well in school but finding his feet as an entrepreneur when he married his first wife, Olga, in 1987 and invested her parents' wedding present in black market goods. This investment tripled in value.

This was the beginning of his meteoric business career and undoubtedly gave Abramovich not only the heady taste of power but also, and perhaps more importantly, the illusion that money can protect against loss. Because it is loss that Abramovich seems to be so anxious about.

Abramovich seems to have a habit of firing wives (he has been married twice) and football managers. It would not be surprising on either front if he was looking for his lost parents ­ the idealised and missing mother of his infancy, who can never be brought back to life, and the father whom he depended on and who also abandoned him in death.

Just as Abramovich's father failed to protect his son against the loss of his mother, no football manager can protect the team against loss. Scores count and losses count more.

Abramovich is emotional about the game and may well experience the team as an extension of himself. Perhaps he keeps hoping that he can find another father who can make things right for him and for the family?

A scapegoat is a willing victim sacrificed to restore the powers of the ruler

He appoints a new father-manager, fires him, appoints another and so on. In this way, the loss of the father is under Abramovich's control ­ he calls the shots and is not the one who is left, suddenly and traumatically.

It also means that the father-manager, once idealised, is doomed to fail when the team is not invincible. The father-manager plays the role of the scapegoat who, in his inevitable human weakness, comes to represent the vulnerability that Abramovich may be so frightened of within himself. Traditionally, the scapegoat is the willing victim that is sacrificed to restore and renew the powers of the ruler.

The problem is that as Abramovich becomes increasingly anxious about loss, the more heads are likely to roll. This in turn is likely to make Abramovich feel guilty ­ at least unconsciously - about getting rid of his managers, and possibly his wives as well.

He will then need to spend even more money on the next round in order to alleviate his guilt and win back the love he fears he has lost. This is an action re-play that no one wants to watch.

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