Longreads

The first person in «Chelsea» after Abramovich and a transfer genius. Who is Marina Granovskaia?

0

The main woman of the world football. Abramovich’s chief assistant. These are in much the keywords, which help to find information about Marina Granovskaia – «Chelsea»’s director, who is a chief executive at the London club.

The Russian native has been holding the post for more than 8 years. During that time, she became famous for her strong character, power of words, and out-of-the-box approach to transfers. This helped her get a cut-rate deal with a range of top players, reconcile José Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, and finalize a £60m-a-year deal with Nike for «Chelsea» (it will run until 2032 and it is the sixth-largest deal in the world).

That said, Marina Granovskaia is an incredibly private person. You have to conduct quite a research to find some unique information about her. See for yourself. Only a couple of paragraphs are devoted to her on the official «Chelsea» website. She was born in Russia and is a dual Russian and Canadian national. She graduated in 1997 from Moscow State University with honors and the same year started her career at Sibneft, formerly owned by Roman Abramovich.

Granovskaia has helped Abramovich in many matters as a senior adviser and she has acted as a representative of the owner and in support of the board of directors of «Chelsea» since 2010. She officially joined the board of directors of the club as a director three years later. Granovskaia is fluent in English and speaks several other European languages. That’s it, there’s no more information about the person, who defines today’s «Chelsea», on the club’s official site.

What does Marina Granovskaia do at «Chelsea»?

In 2014, she was promoted to the role of chief executive at the club. After the departure of Ron Gourlay from «Chelsea», it was her that took up the majority of football issues – transfers, development of the salary base, and control of the scouting network (they say that Granovskaia was the author of an idea of the creation of the loan network across Europe). Bruce Buck, Chairman of the club, is responsible for strategic issues (like entering the Super League and contractual dealings).

Transfers are Granovskaia’s main job. It was negotiations that let her earn the reputation of one of the most unyielding and tough managers in the world. Granovskaia’s role in negotiations is settling financial and economic matters and hammering out terms needed for the club.

Why is Granovskaia so cool?

According to the agents, who have been working with Granovskaia, she’s strict, but fair in negotiations and she’s continuously involved in the process. «She’s constantly working. It’s not uncommon to get a reply from her at midnight if she hasn’t had a chance to get back to you during the day.», – one of the agents tells The Athletic. Other website respondents confirm the Russian lady’s professionalism and honesty. She doesn’t have favorites among agents, she’s not interested in speculation and mind games in negotiations. She has a perfect reputation built on toughness, cold-headedness, and lack of extra emotions:

«I’ve been involved in three or four deals with Marina and she’s always been good to her word. – an unnamed agent told The Athletic. – Every time I dealt with her, it was very straightforward, very business-like, very professional and she never went back on her word. I can’t say that about everybody else in this business».

«Chelsea»’s performance in the transfer market and a number of good cases featuring Granovskaia just confirm what people, who used to work with her, said. Starting with the 2013/2014 season, «Chelsea» has been included in the top 3 clubs in the world when it comes to expenses for transfers (€1.38bn), but at the same time, it ranks first when it comes to income (€1.03bn). A €345m minus is easily explained by purchases of the past two years – the players are still at the club and are beneficial to it.

Due to Granovskaia’s vigorous efforts in selling players, «Chelsea» fills budgetary gaps easily. Starting with 2014, the club has made a €605m operating loss, but the work on selling helped to cover 89% of this sum. Roughly speaking, Granovskaia made the club €0.5 billion.

How does she work?

It’s easier to understand why Granovskaia is considered a guru of negotiations and persuasion on the basis of specific examples. Thanks to her, «Chelsea» kept Didier Drogba in 2009. Drogba scored only 5 goals that season and got a six-game ban for pressing referee Tom Henning Øvrebø in the CL semi-final with «Barcelona». It had been coming down to Drogba leaving, but Granovskaia, who had not yet been working at the club officially then, convinced managers to extend the contract with the striker. The very next season, he highlighted Granovskaia’s brilliancy with the best striker title and the championship title. Within another three years, the forward got «Chelsea» their first CL title.

While Granovskaia kept Drogba, she was tough with John Terry during his new contract negotiation in 2012. Terry didn’t want to sign the deal and demanded improved terms, which is why he got the response: «Take or leave it». Result: extension of the agreement on Granovskaia’s terms for three years.

Granovskaia is featuring in José Mourinho’s comeback to «Chelsea» as well. In 2007, Roman Abramovich fell out with the Portuguese and he certainly wanted to have nothing to do with him in the future. However, Granovskaia convinced the «Chelsea»’s owner to change his mind and address José again. Abramovich gave in and got the EPL title in the 2014/2015 season in return.

Selling Eden Hazard to «Real» is another outstanding case. Florentino Pérez wanted to move Hazard to Madrid but hadn’t made «Chelsea» a substantial offer. In the summer of 2018, he finally did (about €150m), but Granovskaia didn’t accept it. It turned out like in the case with Terry: either €200m or the deal’s off. Pérez didn’t wait for the end of Hazard’s contract and agreed to the €160m deal.

«With Marina, no means no – which is actually quite rare in football. No can often mean ‘let’s have 20 more meetings and eventually settle on a price’. But when she says no, you don’t hear from her again.» – that’s how one of the unnamed agents describes the «Chelsea»’s director.

Another Granovskaia’s asset is hyper-preparedness. For instance, when «Chelsea» got interested in N’Golo Kanté, «PSG» entered the competition with the Londoners. Kanté was fine with returning home and the Parisians were going to pay the sum that «Leicester» requested. Nevertheless, Granovskaia turned the situation to her advantage.

«Chelsea» came to the player’s agents and upped the transfer commission to 30% (i.e. to €12m). Granovskaia knew that French laws forbid clubs to pay higher fees than 10%, so «PSG» would be left out of the game for sure. An email to Abramovich detailing the transfer with an astronomical fee started with the words «Do not faint. He deserves it». Eventually, Granovskaia closed the €50.5m deal and Kanté is still shining at «Chelsea».

Marina Granovskaia’s power at the club is so great that coaches at «Stamford Bridge» get restricted because of her. When signing a contract, Antonio Conte asked her to stay out of the transfer policy. Conte received a pay increase right off the bat as a suggestion to be quiet. Of course, Conte couldn’t make it and started accusing Granovskaia of pulling off wrong transfers and not consulting him at all. It got to the point where Conte only spoke with Granovskaia through coach Carlo Cudicini during the last few months in London.

Maurizio Sarri wasn’t getting along with Granovskaia either. Insomuch that this phrase was attributed to him: «God only created women to carry semen from the bedroom to the toilet, not to run a football club». It was denied later, but the Italian left the club within a year. In an interview, he talked about leaving «Chelsea» with sadness: «At Chelsea, I made a sensational mistake, that of wanting to return to Italy at all costs. Marina stonewalled me to leave Chelsea. Chelsea are a great club, in the following years they took many young people suitable for me». It seems that Granovskaia won here as well and saved «Chelsea» £26.6m. The club had to pay Sarri compensation, but it all ended with a transfer (!) of the coach to «Juventus» for €4m.