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'Chelsea get sanctioned everywhere they go' - Blues face identity crisis in post-Abramovich era

11:30 GMT+3 11/03/2022
Thomas Tuchel Saul Chelsea
Even though the Russian's assets have been frozen after links to Vladimir Putin were confirmed, Blues fans chanted his name at Norwich on Thursday

"Chelsea get sanctioned everywhere they go," chanted the Chelsea supporters who travelled to Norwich on Thursday night.

It was tongue-in-cheek, sung in defiance, and intended to hit back at the UK establishment which froze owner Roman Abramovich's assets, including Chelsea Football Club, shortly before kick-off.

The Blues showed the quality that has become commonplace at the club since the Russian's controversial takeover in 2003 by winning 3-1 at Carrow Road. 

Those chants of support for Abramovich felt wrong, with war presently being waged on European soil for the first time since the 1990s.

On the morning of the game, Abramovich was described by the government as "pro-Kremlin", having had "a close relationship with warlord Vladimir Putin for decades" and accused of "destabilising Ukraine". 

The sanctions which followed were explained to the world in geopolitical and economic terms but were hard to swallow for many Chelsea fans. Their response was to either ignore or dispute the British government’s view. 

Football tribalism came into play, with fans attacking critics of Abramovich on social media and sponsors like Three, which has suspended a £40 million-a-year ($52.5m) deal.

Abramovich’s 19-year reign as Chelsea’s owner brought joy to the club’s supporters – including two Champions League titles – and there is a drive among them to protect that legacy. 

It's hard to imagine the next owner being as successful as the Russian, even though at least 20 serious bidders emerged ahead of the sanctions. 

Chelsea's success under Abramovich has been dazzling but has blinded some Blues supporters. They don't see anything other than winning the club game's biggest trophies. 

But there was a Chelsea before Abramovich and there will be a Chelsea after. This organisation has brilliant men's, women's and academy teams. 

Two goals at Norwich were scored by homegrown graduates Mason Mount and Trevoh Chalobah, who exemplify the pathway from underage sides at Cobham to the first team.  

Kai Havertz sealed the win with his eighth goal involvement in 10 games, with the German coming good when his side needs him most.

"It's not been easy, of course," Mount reflected after the match. "You see what's happening behind the scenes and it can be hard to focus.

"I think we have been brilliant, especially considering what's happened off the pitch. 

"I thought it was brilliant and we need to just focus on what we can do on the pitch. That's our only goal."

Manager Thomas Tuchel also continues to handle the escalating crisis with a class, charm and grace that should serve as an example to fans.

"As long as we have enough shirts and a bus to drive to the games we will be there and we will compete hard," Tuchel told BBC Five Live after the match. 

"I think the rhythm, the excitement, the love for the game, in general, helps us,” he added in the post-match press conference. 

"We allowed ourselves and demanded ourselves to work hard, to sweat it out, to work together, and it was the best thing to get the focus back and enjoy what we are doing. 

"Full credit, the team showed very good character and we can be proud that they produced performances like this under the circumstances. 

"It tells us we are right to trust them, that the attitude is right, and the culture of the club is right.

"So, we keep on going."

The post-Abramovich era won't see the same lavish transfer spending and the club needs to start thinking about building a new identity. 

If not, they'll risk ending up with a warped sense of injustice due to changes that are beyond their control. 

This is a 117-year-old football club, born in a pub in the Hammersmith and City Borough of London. They play in blue; that's the real Chelsea and it will never die.