The news that chief executive Ron Gourlay is to leave his position at Stamford Bridge to pursue other business interests seems, on the surface, to be a case of strange timing. Under Mourinho, the club now appears to be one of the prime forces in the domestic game. Couple this with a summer of acclaimed transfer business, on the back of a January window when they accumulated a reported £37million for a player who rarely started for them, plus a series of commercial agreements, and things seem to be going rather swimmingly at the Bridge. For the cognoscenti of the power relationships at the club however, the move probably came as little surprise. Whilst of course Gourlay’s term can be deemed as satisfactory, his power in recent times has been diminished by the ever-growing authority of probably the most powerful woman in the British, if not European game, Maria Granovskaia. Who? You may well ask.
Merely listed on the club’s website as a ‘director,’ Granovakaia is very much an adherent to club owner Roman Abramovich’s approach to self-promotion in the media; in that she simply doesn’t. Shunning the limelight with the incessant glare of TV cameras and reporter’s notebooks has been a particular cause celebre. Indeed it’s likely that very few people outside of the club, its fans or those whose job it is to be aware of such things, know much of her role at the club.
Born in Russia, she holds dual Russian-Canadian nationality, and joined the Abramovich empire at Sibneft in 1997. As time went, she progressed through the ranks to become one of the former oligarch’s most trusted advisors. This was demonstrated when she moved to London just as Abramovich took over at Chelsea a decade or so ago. Officially described as Abramovich’s PA at the time, her role was very much more than this, and it quickly became clear to the managers at the club that the only way to speak to the owner was through his trusted lieutenant. Her increasing power, if still minimal public profile, was recognised as she became an official representative of the owner in 2010, and a full director in 2013.
All of that however, says little of the real progress made behind the drawn curtains at the club. It’s widely accepted that Granovskaia has been the ‘go to guy’ to get things ‘over the line’ for the past few years, and was instrumental in the return of Mourniho to the club. She has also taken a firm ‘hands on’ approach to clinching key transfer deals. Although the first one of these that she was reportedly intimately involved with was the ill-fated purchase of Fernando Torres from Liverpool, dealings of late have been much more to the west London club’s advantage.
The sale of Juan Mata to Manchester United was hardly a surprise, as the little Spaniard, although player of the year for two successive seasons, seemed not to fit with the new manager’s idea of how a ‘number ten’ should operate without the ball. Although the move was hardly a surprise, recouping a profit on the initial purchase by obtaining a cheque from United for a reported £37million was breath-taking business. Equally, the sale of maverick defender Davis Luiz to PSG this summer was another major financial coup. Again, here was a player that Mourinho did not see as part of his first eleven plans. A staggering fee of some £50million was however gained in exchange for the Brazilian’s move to France. Two ‘reserves’ moved on for a combined fee within touching distance of £90million, was very much grist to the FFP mill for the club. It is widely accepted that both deals were directed and closed by Granovskaia.
This sort of success is precisely what the club is seeking to replicate in its commercial link ups, so vital these days to combat the strictures of FFP. Whilst no-one would say Gourlay had failed in his role of bringing on board sponsorship deals, there’s always a desire to do better, and compare with the sort of advantages other clubs have gained. Whilst a new executive will be brought on board, specifically charged with this task, it’s extremely likely that Granovskaia will be driving the process, and will have overall control.
With such success on her CV, it’s little surprise that Abramovich holds his employee in such high regard and may also be the reason that there is to be no direct replacement for Gourlay after his departure in a couple of months. The gap will rapidly be filled by the increasing influence of Granovskaia. The move however is unlikely to raise the Russian’s profile in the media however. The urbane and presentable Bruce Buck will remain as the public face of the club’s hierarchy, whilst Granovskaia remains behind the scenes wielding the effective power.
Blues’ fans will be hoping that the shuffling around of the power-brokers at the club will do little to disturb the apparent trend of success now under way at the club. Should Granovskaia’s record be anything to reflect her future aspirations however, they should have little to concern them.