Liverpool legend Graeme Souness once told a story about an amusing first encounter with Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich before he bought Chelsea in 2003
Abramovich is in the headlines after announcing on Wednesday that he is trying to sell Chelsea following an increase in scrutiny on his position due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian is a well-known figure in English football, having overseen a hugely successful 19 years at Chelsea which has seen the club win every available trophy.
But before he bought Chelsea in 2003, the 55-year-old billionaire was not familiar with the game in this country.
His lack of knowledge led to an amusing encounter with Souness, who enjoyed a trophy-laden playing career before going into management.
Souness is one of the most familiar faces in British football and, between 2000 and 2004, was managing Blackburn Rovers.
However, Abramovich was none the wiser about Souness’ identity when they first crossed paths.
“I drove him to his very first game of football here in England, which was Manchester United versus Real Madrid which was in the semi-final of the European Cup four or five years ago,” Souness explained on Sky Sports.
“A friend of mine, [football agent] Pini Zahavi, asked me if I’d like to go to the game. I said ‘Yes’. On the day of the game I changed my mind, but I said I’d still take him to the game.
“When we got to the airport he said, ‘I have some friends coming from Russia who want to go to the game’.
“So I said ‘OK, let’s pick them up’. So I went around to the terminal. I’m outside the car, leaning against this silver Mercedes four-door – a big one, slightly tinted windows – and I’m leaning against the car.
“These three guys came out along with Pini. I was introduced to them. One sat next to me in the front, the other three in the back.
“So we’re driving to the stadium, Manchester United, and I’m trying to make conversation with this guy sitting next to me.
“I quickly understood that he didn’t speak that much English, but I could tell from his body language that he really didn’t want me speaking to him.
“In my head I’m thinking ‘he’s getting thrown out on the M56 if his body language doesn’t change’.
“It’s only after about 10 minutes into the journey I heard Pini in the back say, ‘Souness, manager of Blackburn Rovers’ and he (Abramovich) touched my knee and acknowledged me after that.
“A few months later, when he’d bought Chelsea, I was in the boardroom afterwards and he came over and was really apologetic.
“I said to him, ‘you thought I was your chauffeur!’ and he went ‘(nodding) yep’.”