Strange are his ways

Instead of trying to imagine an easy way of dispensing with his cash as a gift every time his bedside alarm clock buzzes, Abramovich has to worry about which goal-scorer he will buy for Chelsea and how long he must wait before he sacks whoever is the current manager. By Ted Corbett.

Fred Trueman once told me that John Paul Getty II had confided to him that he awoke each morning knowing that he had to give away £250,000 before lunch in order to avoid paying even more income tax.

There are two factors that arise immediately from this story. One is that most of us would be delighted to have such a problem. JPG II was the grandson of the original John Paul Getty who made his considerable amounts of cash from oil but who was not inclined to let go of any of it without a fight — “giving people money never helps” he is supposed to have said — and it was only when the teenager JPG III was kidnapped in Rome that he willingly parted with a tiny portion of his many billions.

The second point is that Fred, a lovely, humorous man and a fine story teller with friends in all walks of life, was inclined to if not exaggerate his tales, certainly to simplify them.

We should not worry too much about the veracity of this little anecdote but simply allow it to lead us to our worries about Roman Abramovich, the 50 {+t} {+h} richest man in the world with more than eight billion British pounds sticking out of his wallet and a similar concern to JPG II.

Instead of trying to imagine an easy way of dispensing with his cash as a gift every time his bedside alarm clock buzzes, Abramovich has to worry about which goal-scorer he will buy for Chelsea and how long he must wait before he sacks whoever is the current manager.

So far he has got rid of eight managers from Claudio Ranieri who was in charge in 2003 to Di Matteo who was clearly a reluctant choice — but he had guided Chelsea to the European Championship which Abramovich craved it seems — and was sent on his way, with a pocket full of golden coins, earlier this season.

A good many writers damn Abramovich for a fool — not in so many words but the implication is there — with more money than he needs, many more mansions than most of us need, more yachts than any man can steer at the same time, and a security staff of 40, supposedly the biggest protection force in the civilised world.

I doubt if he is a fool and I recently read an article which justified every move he had made in charge of Chelsea.

I will skip lightly over his background. Very lightly indeed since I do not want to get half a number wrong and find myself in a libel action with a man with quite so much money as this guy with many pockets.

He was born in poverty in Russia, his parents were both dead by the time he was four and he left school to go into the Army where — and how can anyone be sure if these stories are true — he fiddled the sale of petrol to his own officers and conducted a lot of business that was far from official.

I will gloss over all the stories of industrial and political sleight of hand but by the time he was 30 he was governor of the Russian province of Chukotka where he created jobs, increased wages and added to the wealth of the area by being generous with his own money.

In 2003 he bought the various companies that owned Chelsea and ever since he has been abused and praised in about equal measure for his behaviour in football.

Now, even more than his players — well, his money has bought them so I guess they are literally his players — he is Chelsea, yet he hardly says a word, he never submits himself to interview and everything we know about him drifts into the public domain from the mouths of his many assistants.

Abramovich is a remarkable man. From a poor Jewish family — remember that the word “pogrom” comes from terrible atrocities against Jews in Russia — by way of adoption by men and women of his own faith, through the Army (which can be a tough life) and no doubt moments when he wondered if he would end his life in jail, he has battled his way to the top, to the point at which he has more cars and yachts and homes than you and I have dreams of prosperity.

He has gone through a divorce which cost him more — all right, $300m if you must know — which is rather more than we will earn in a lifetime and as I write it is announced that his wish for the young Spanish manager Pep Guardiola to join the club next season has come to nothing.

What further strife does he face? Sometimes fate gets in your way so that all the money in the world will not help. He plans to keep Rafa Benitez — his interim manager he insists — only until the end of the season. Now that there is no chance of signing Guardiola, who says he prefers Bayern Munich, where will he look? He has never had an English manager. Perhaps someone, like David Moyes at under-funded Everton, might take the sensible, hard-headed route to success and, allied to the Abramovich cash, bring him the soccer success he desires above all else.

That would add a touch of irony to the billionaire’s life story; worthy of Tolstoy or Trueman or any great writer of fiction.