Ultimate United Articles
Abramovich had bought Liverpool? What If..............................
Our latest article explores a possibility that, but for one game, might have become a real possibility.
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
Not many Manchester United fans like Chelsea very much. After all, what is there to like? The past fifteen years have seen them turn out a collection of players despised by fans of most English clubs. There is a flip side, however, in that Roman Abramovich, but for the fate of one game, could have ended up owning Liverpool instead.
Sunday 11th May 2003. Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, Jesper Grønkjær’s winning goal securing fourth spot, and a place in the following season’s UEFA Champions League. Rumour has it that, without the guaranteed revenue that comes with playing in Europe’s premier competition, Chelsea were on the verge of bankruptcy. They had assembled a vast squad, filled with big name players from all over Europe, on very substantial wages. A good example of this would be Winston Bogarde, signed on a four year, £40,000 per week contract, and he saw out the entire deal, despite only making 11 appearances in total, most of them in the first year.
Liverpool, meanwhile, had gone 13 years without winning the title and were still no closer to achieving this aim (and still aren’t, at the time of writing). Due to a second place finish the previous season, they had competed in that season’s Champions League, but with United as champions, Arsenal in second place and Newcastle in third (yes, you did read that right), they were competing for the fourth and final spot. The odds were against Liverpool going into the match, as defeat at home to Manchester City the previous week had left them three points behind Chelsea with a goal difference deficit of eight, meaning they would have to beat them by a record score to qualify.
Rumour has it that Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich was watching the race for fourth place very closely, and was going to purchase whichever side emerged successful, knowing that Champions League football would be a great incentive to attract the world’s top players. He purchased Chelsea a month later, becoming the owner in June 2003.
Back from the Brink
Abramovich bought the club from Ken Bates, for a total of £140 million. It is reported that he paid a flat sum of £80 million, and wiped out club debts of £60 million, which shows the dire straits the club was in at the time. In addition to this, he spent around £120 million on new players for the squad, adding big name foreign players such as Hernán Crespo, Claude Makélélé, Geremi and Adrian Mutu, as well as snapping up United midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón for a cut-price £15 million. Big name British-based players Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Damien Duff, Wayne Bridge and Scott Parker were also added to a squad that already included England internationals Frank Lampard and John Terry.
Chelsea finished second in the Premier League, and reached the Champions League semi-finals. It was the worst kept secret in football at the time that manager Claudio Ranieri would be sacked in the summer, even if he managed to win either of those competitions. Many wanting them to win the Champions League. The 2004 Final between Monaco and F.C. Porto was being touted as a winner takes all match – for the trophy and the manager’s job at Stamford Bridge.
We’ll never know for sure if Didier Deschamps would have been offered the job had Monaco won the match, but José Mourinho’s team won 3 – 0, and within a month he was confirmed as the new Chelsea manager. Ambramovich’s lavish spending spree continued, and another £100 million was invested as Mourinho brought Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho with him from Porto, persuaded Arjen Robben to snub Old Trafford and join him at Stamford Bridge, and bought goalkeeper Petr Čech, and strikers Didier Drogba and Mateja Kežman. Chelsea won their first league title in 50 years, and repeated the feat the following season, with little competition from Manchester United, Arsenal or anybody else for that matter.
By now, although Chelsea continued to spend where necessary, the strength in depth they had in the squad meant that they no longer needed to indulge in the spending sprees of previous summers. Over the next couple of years, Michael Essien, Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jon Obi Mikel were added to the squad. It seemed that Chelsea were unstoppable, so when they added the world’s best striker, Andrey Shevchenko, and Europe’s most sought after midfielder, Michael Ballack, it seemed that nobody would ever challenge them. Of course, nobody could foresee that both of these two transfers would actually unbalance the squad, or that Mourinho didn’t particularly want either of them.
As Chelsea stumbled, Manchester United stole a march on them in the 2006-07 title race and never relinquished it. Reports in the media suggested that Mourinho didn’t fancy either player, as he had Lampard for Ballacks position, and Drogba suited his system much better than Shevchenko did. Rumours has it that the Ukrainian striker was Abramovich’s buy, being his friend. This reportedly led to friction between owner and manager, which wasn’t helped when Avram Grant was brought in as Director of Football. A parting of the ways was inevitable, and in September 2007, just a few days before Chelsea faced United at Old Trafford, Mourinho left the club, with both parties claiming it was down to that old favourite of reasons, “mutual consent”.
Grant took over the Chelsea hot seat for the rest of the season, but came second best to United in both the title race and the 2008 Champions League Final in Moscow. Over the next few seasons, Chelsea chopped and changed their manager around every few months, with Guus Hiddink, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benítez among the world renowned coaches who were hired and fired. There was also the bizarre experiment with André Villas-Boas, with Abramovich seemingly believing that because he recruited him from Porto, that he would galvanise his side the same way that Mourinho did. Unfortunately for Chelsea’s owner, history doesn’t always repeat itself.
Despite the chopping and changing, Chelsea continued to win trophies, seemingly having a monopoly on the FA Cup in recent years. Abramovich, however, continued to try and pick the team, breaking the British transfer record in 2011 to spend £50 million on Fernando Torres, despite the fact that he clearly hadn’t been the same player since knee surgery the previous year.
Oddly enough, Abramovich’s dream of winning the Champions League was realised by a man in caretaker charge, former Chelsea midfielder Roberto Di Matteo, who had taken over following Villas-Boas’ disastrous spell in charge.
Chelsea have continued to recruit at the highest level, and are now in the position of being one of the clubs always mentioned whenever a world class player comes on the market. Even without the lure of Champions League football next season, being a big name, successful, London club will always be an attraction for top players.
Thanks to Financial Fair Play, it might be too late for others to copy, as when Chelsea laid down their marker, there were no restrictions in place. They could spend whatever they wanted, especially as they were already a Champions League club when Abramovich took over, thereby able to attract the top players instantly.
What would have been different if Liverpool had finished 4th?
It’s never been confirmed, but the rumours at the time were that Abramovich considered all of the top clubs in England but it is widely believed that it came down to the race between Chelsea and Liverpool for fourth place. Chelsea seemed a perfect fit, as they were a London club who already had a good squad. The cost to Abramovic was merely a drop in the ocean t when you compare what it cost Malcolm Glazer to buy United a couple of years later, and they were already in the Champions League.
If Liverpool had won the race for fourth, and Abramovich had bought them instead, it doesn’t bear thinking about for United fans. Both clubs had good squads at the time, just three points separated them in the table at the end of the 2002-03 season, so you have to think that a similar investment would have achieved similar results. This would mean that image no United fans ever wants in their head; Steven Gerrard lifting that Premier League trophy, would probably have become a reality – and on more than one occasion.
Although Liverpool have never been afraid to spend money when the need arises, such as when they made the entire country laugh by spending £35 million on Andy Carroll, they have never embarked on a spending spree to match what Abramovich did. Their biggest spree was this summer, where they have spent just under £175 million so far on Naby Keïta, Xherdan Shaquiri, Fabinho and Alisson. Abramovich spent more than that in his first twelve months, and the fees for the players he brought in back then would be vastly increased in today’s market. If you consider that Chelsea paid £16 million for Hernán Crespo in 2003, to get a player of his class these days would probably cost around four times that, if not more.
So add players of that calibre to the squad Liverpool already had, led by Steven Gerrard, and you start to see the big picture. Liverpool winning trophy after trophy. Chelsea, under Abramovich’s reign have won five Premier League titles. Transfer that success over to Liverpool, and that would put them on at least 23 titles – and who is to say that they wouldn’t have won some of the title races against United that Chelsea lost?
The fact is that, since Roman Abramovich took charge at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool have won just five trophies (if you count the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup), whereas Chelsea won six trophies in the first four years of his ownership. It would take a fool to believe that, had Liverpool won that race for fourth place, and Abramovich had taken over at Anfield, that the last fifteen years wouldn’t have been filled with trophies. In fact, it’s a good bet that they would still very much be on that perch which it took United so long to knock them off.
In fact, there are plenty of times where it actually WOULD have been their year. So next time you are hating on Chelsea just remember this; it could have been worse. A lot, lot, worse.
Added by Philip Meese on 21/07/2018 13:56:21