Marina Granovskaia: The Queen of Stamford Bridge

Marina Granovskaia. The woman who runs Chelsea FC on behalf of Roman Abramovich. Depending on which side of the fence you sit, she is either a Queen or her surname is #Out. It seems every time Chelsea fail to obtain one of their first choice targets, or a fan favourite player is sold, the anger and blame is directed solely at her. With no context or objectivity. 

It seems as though Marina Granovskaia rarely gets the credit she deserves. So here’s a little delve into who she is and what she’s done for Chelsea. 

Roman Abramovich and Marina Gravonskaia. Image courtesy of Getty Images.
Roman Abramovich and Marina Gravonskaia. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Marina Granovskaia is Russian-Canadian, and graduated from Moscow State University in 1997. The same year she began working for Roman Abramovich, as his PA, then at Sibneft, his oil company. 

So her working relationship with Chelsea’s owner is 24 years and counting. This tells us something important straight off the bat, because we know Abramovich is a ruthless businessman who demands the highest of standards. For Ms Gravonskaia to be still working for him after 24 years, and in complete charge of one of his biggest interests and passions, not only shows an incredible level of trust, but proves beyond doubt Marina Granovoskia is very, very good at her job. 

She first began working at Chelsea in 2003, when the Russian oligarch first bought the club. She worked her way up, and eventually became one of his representatives in 2010 and joined the Chelsea board in 2013. In 2014 when Ron Gourlay left the club, Gravonskaia was promoted again, this time to her current role of Chief Executive. 

In the period since she has established herself as one of the most powerful and respected negotiators in European football. Chelsea now have good working relationships with many clubs. How often have you heard “Chelsea have a good relationship with….” when we’re talking to a club about a transfer? It’s not a coincidence. It may not be solely down to Gravonskaia, but as chief negotiator for seven years and counting, it’s fair to say she will have played a significant role in this.

It’s only fair when talking about Marina Granoskaia to acknowledge her mistakes. The transfer window of 2017 was an absolute nightmare from which the club are only just recovering from. Then in 2018, paying £71m for a goalkeeper who, with respect, wasn’t worth that money, (despite his Super Cup heroics and improved form under Thomas Tuchel) could he seen to be a mistake. 

But when you’re looking at her overall record, it’s pretty phenomenal. She has clearly learned from the 2017 disaster. She acknowledged the need for footballing input on the board with the appointment of Petr Cech.  Transfer policy and recruitment strategy was overhauled, with the help of Frank Lampard and Cech. 

Since the summer of 2019, it’s hard to see one mistake in the transfer market in terms of purchases. Looking at the squad in the summers of 2018 or 2019 and looking at it now, the transformation is clear. The club have gone from a team which finishes third or fourth with no hope of the title, to having one of the strongest, most talented young squads in Europe. According to a recent video profile of Gravonskaia in The Athletic, she doesn’t consider herself an expert on football. She takes soundings from Petr Cech and Scott McLaughlin, the infamous head scout, when making decisions on players. 

Without the advantage of a big stadium to bring in revenue of other big clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and others, Chelsea have had to find other ways to bring in income to source big transfers. Marina has done an incredible job doing this. She consistently gets good value for money on player sales, and adds to this this through getting good loan fees.

She’s been criticised for her negotiation skills but it’s hard to see why. Last summer Bayer Leverkusen wanted £100m for Kai Havertz. Gravonskaia got down to £62m plus £10m in add ons. Leicester City demanded £85m for Ben Chilwell. The club ended up paying £45m plus add ons. This summer Inter wanted nearly £112m for Romelu Lukaku. Marina got them down to £97.5m. 

Those deals alone Marina has saved Chelsea £85m. Other clubs may just have paid what was demanded, but Marina is a tough negotiator, often running down transfer windows to get the deal she wants, on her terms. It’s frustrating for fans but it can sure be effective.

She’s been derided for sending so many players on loan, but Chelsea have accrued a fortune in loan fees in recent years. The fee to loan Kurt Zouma to Everton back in 2018 was £8m – bigger than the transfer fee Chelsea paid for him – and for Ross Barkley to Aston Villa last season we got £11m in a loan fee. Remarkably Chelsea made over £10m in loan fees for Tiemoue Bakayoko with a likely £15m transfer fee to come.

In terms of sales, she’s done well too. Getting £130m for Eden Hazard with one year on his contract, and £48m plus a £10m loan fee for Alvaro Morata, essentially the money paid for him. Extending Oliver Giroud’s contract earlier this year was met with confusion and derision, but Chelsea and Gravonskaia were the winners, banking £2m plus add ons for his sale to AC Milan. She even managed to extract £8m for Davide Zappacosta, who many felt was unsellable.

Off the pitch Marina Granovskaia negotiated a 15 year deal with Nike worth a whopping £900m. Some fans may dislike the kits Nike produce for us, but their £60m per season investment sure helps cash flow.

The fact Chelsea have not suffered financially as a result of the pandemic and have still been able to be hugely competitive in the transfer market, is in large part down to excellent management of finances and her negotiation skills. 

This last summer, 2021, Chelsea broke their transfer record, and made the second biggest transfer in British football history, £97.5m for Romelu Lukaku. Yet the club actually made a profit of nearly £40m in the market, without including loan fees.  

The current Chelsea squad, in large part built from 2019 summer onwards, has been built on a net spend of around £32m. Which is a phenomenal achievement given the strength of the current squad. Indeed Marina Granovskaia has also played a part in the excellent recruitment by the Chelsea Women’s team in recent years – she was pictured alongside Lauren James on the announcement of her signing this summer. 

Once a Blue, Always a Blue: Lauren James returns to the club she represented in her youth. Credit | Sky Sports
Once a Blue, Always a Blue: Lauren James returns to the club she represented in her youth. Credit | Sky Sports

Marina has a ruthless side too. She sacked club legend Frank Lampard and appointed Thomas Tuchel, which although painful, again proved to be an inspired decision. She knows the standards expected at Chelsea, and won’t let them drop.

Gravonskaia also showed her ruthless side again in the summer of 2021. Centre-back Jules Kounde is a player Thomas Tuchel and the club see as a priority. However she refused to be bullied into overpaying, so the transfer didn’t happen this summer.

This deal, and indeed the long pursuit of Declan Rice, who again Chelsea refused to pursue this summer despite being a principle target, due to cost, are examples of how Marina Granovskaia is often willing to play the long game, and be smart in negotiations. The chances are her stubbornness on Kounde will mean we get him for a far cheaper price in the January 2022 window. If the Londoners choose to go for Declan Rice in summer 2022, the chances are that they will get him cheaper than we would have this summer.

This might be frustrating, and certainly judging by Twitter it annoys some people, but it ensures that Abramovich doesn’t overpay for players now or in future, and protects the finances of the club. Which is part of Marina’s job.

Marina often plays the long game with signings. Chelsea building relationships with Romelu Lukaku’s agent a year ago by signing one of his clients on a free, giving him a commission. Whilst also building relationships with Mino Raiola for an ultimately unsuccessful (this time) attempt for Erling Haaland. She began building relationships with Dortmund as far back as 2018,  with the loan for Michy Batshuayi. Likely knowing Christian Pulisic, then a Dortmund player, was a long term target. 

There were rumours this summer that Chelsea hope a strong relationship with Dortmund will help if there is an attempt to sign alleged long-term target Jude Bellingham in future. Finally of course, you can’t ignore the fact Kurt Zouma was sold to West Ham, who own another of the club’s main targets, Declan Rice. 

I’m personally convinced the three way transfer of Olivier Giroud to Chelsea, Batshuayi to Dortmund and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal in January 2018 was at the very least manipulated by Marina as a way to get her man. Offering Batshuayi to Dortmund to allow them to release Aubameyang so Arsenal could release Giroud. 

Even in managerial contracts Granovskaia has learned from her mistakes. After the hugely costly payouts to Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, she gave Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard a two year deal with an option. She managed to get £8m from Juventus for Sarri, and with only 6 months left on Lampard’s £4m a year deal when he was sacked, the payoff to him was relatively small. 

Thomas Tuchel was given an initial 18 month deal. He now has a three year deal, but the odds are this is another two plus one contract.

Marina Granovskaia is streetwise. She is shrewd. She plans ahead and finds ways to get deals done. Above all, she always protects the interests of Chelsea Football Club. 

Pre-Abramovich, Chelsea had history of success followed by the accumulation of big debt. Roman not only paid the debt off, but has ensured the club now has no external debt – and Marina Granovskaia has played a large part in achieving that.

Marina has made mistakes, which we all know about, but the overwhelming evidence of recent years is that she has learned from them. She’s a master negotiator and businesswoman who’s put Chelsea mens and women’s teams in an excellent position to be competitive on and off the pitch for years to come. 

Marina has proved why Roman Abramovich trusts her so much. The cries of Marina Out are empty, hollow and without foundation. Criticising her every time we don’t get the shiny new toy, is both ignorant and ungrateful. I personally wouldn’t swap Marina Granovskaia for any executive in world football. It’s often joked about, but like her or loathe her, there’s a strong argument that Marina is the true Queen of Stamford Bridge. Long may she reign.

(Sources::Marina the leader: Chelsea’s transfer revolution (The Athletic), Wikipedia, Telegraph, ‘Who is Marina Granovskaia?’ (The Athletic))

Written by The Score (@TheScore01)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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