London (AFP) – Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich handed over control of Chelsea to trustees of its charitable foundation on Saturday as Premier League players showed their support for war-torn Ukraine.
Elsewhere on a dramatic day in the English top-flight, Christian Eriksen made an emotional return to football eight months after suffering a cardiac arrest and leaders Manchester City grabbed a late winner at Everton.
Abramovich’s move, which overshadowed the action on the pitch, comes just days after Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, which has drawn international condemnation.
The 55-year-old, who has ploughed £1.5 billion ($2 billion) into Chelsea since arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2003, said in a statement on the club’s website that he had always viewed his role as a “custodian of the club”.
“I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart,” he said. “I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.
“I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the club, players, staff, and fans.”
It is understood Abramovich took the decision in order to protect Chelsea from reputational damage as war rages in Ukraine.
Press reports said Abramovich would remain the owner of the club and was not looking to sell the European champions, who have thrived under his ownership.
The UK government on Friday ordered all assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov frozen over the invasion of Ukraine.
The Treasury issued a financial sanctions notice against the two men, adding them to a list of Russian oligarchs already targeted.
Abramovich, whose team play Liverpool in the League Cup final on Sunday, is not on the list.
Ukraine team-mates Vitalii Mykolenko of Everton and Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko embraced before the late kick-off at Goodison Park, where both were substitutes.
Both teams sported the colours of the Ukraine flag before the match, with Zinchenko in tears as the crowd unveiled banners including one that read “We stand with Ukraine”.
Phil Foden struck eight minutes from time as City escaped with a 1-0 win at relegation-threatened Everton to open up a six-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
– Eriksen returns –
Brentford boss Thomas Frank brought on Denmark playmaker Eriksen in the 52nd minute of his side’s 2-0 defeat at home to Newcastle.
It was the first appearance in a competitive match for the 30-year-old former Tottenham and Inter Milan midfielder since he collapsed on the pitch during Denmark’s opening Euro 2020 match against Finland in June.
Eriksen was given a standing ovation by the crowd and both sets of players at the Brentford Community Stadium as he made his entrance.
“If you take away the result I’m one happy man,” Eriksen told Sky Sports. “To go through what I’ve been through, being back is a wonderful feeling.
“Thomas (Frank) didn’t say much (when I came on). I’ve been speaking to him every day for the last few weeks. He just said ‘good luck and enjoy the game’.”
Manchester United dropped crucial points in a frustrating 0-0 stalemate with Watford after players from both sides stood together with a sign saying “peace” in six languages ahead of their game at Old Trafford.
The result leaves them in fourth spot in the Premier League but they are now just two points ahead of Arsenal, who have three games in hand.
“We did everything apart from score,” interim manager Ralf Rangnick told the BBC.
“It’s hard to take that result. In the end, if you miss that many chances, it is difficult to win the game. We were in full control for almost the whole game. We didn’t allow them hardly any counter attacks.”
In the early kick-off, Tottenham blitzed Leeds 4-0 to maintain their chances of finishing in the top four and ratchet up the pressure on Elland Road boss Marcelo Bielsa.
Matty Cash put Aston Villa in front at Brighton, lifting his shirt to reveal a message to Poland international team-mate Tomasz Kedziora, who plays his club football for Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine, and Ollie Watkins made it 2-0.
Crystal Palace drew 1-1 with relegation-threatened Burnley.
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