How ‘Chelsea B’ were swallowed by Abramovich associates

Vitesse Arnhem are a cautionary tale. At first glance, it is possible to fall into the trap of thinking that they hit the jackpot 14 years ago. Vitesse, a Dutch club with little history of success, had their identity transformed after a takeover led by the Georgian former footballer Merab Jordania.

Allegations of links between Jordania and Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and former owner of Chelsea Football Club, were always denied. Vitesse, whose highest finish in the Eredivisie was third in 1998, trundled along. They were characterised as “Chelsea B” because of the numbers of players they took on loan from the Premier League side. The game that brought them the first trophy in their long but modest history is instructive. Three young Chelsea loanees – Matt Miazga, Lewis Baker and Nathan – were in the Vitesse team that beat AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Cup final in 2017.

You might see that triumph as an example of a connection between big and small working well. Jordania, who once described Abramovich as his friend, had been replaced by a Russian businessman, Alexander Chigirinsky, in 2013. Under Chigirinsky, another Abramovich associate, the model persisted.

Vitesse played in Europe. They borrowed some of Chelsea’s brightest academy players, including Armando Broja and Mason Mount. And last month, after reporting by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovered apparent financial ties between Vitesse and Abramovich, an investigation by the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) ended with the club’s relegation from the Eredivisie when they were docked 18 points.

The KNVB imposed the sanction after finding that Vitesse were in breach of its licensing regulations. “Indications” that Abramovich had controlled, or still controlled, the club were cited by the KNVB’s licensing committee. Since then new leaked documents, seen by the Guardian and TBIJ, have emerged that appear to show that Abramovich maintains a secret financial connection to Vitesse through its current owner, Valery Oyf. The documents are part of the Cyprus Confidential files, shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism and Paper Trail Media.