Putin and Abramovich: Russian leadership style gets different results

Chelsea Football club fired its manager, Portugal's Andre Villas-Boas, Sunday . No surprise there. Vladimir Putin was elected Tsar of all the Russias … sorry, President of Russia the same day. No surprise there either.

This coincidence says much about the limits of autocracy in non-autocratic environments.

For Putin the autocrat, Russia is effectively a personal fief with a constitution. When he says he want to return to the presidency from a stint as Prime Minister – no problem. It's his.

For 40-year old Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who took his first steps towards an estimated net worth of $13 plus billion back in the days when Boris Yeltsin sold the state oil company for a fraction of its value, things aren't quite so easy.

He wants Chelsea to win everything, but mainly he wants Chelsea to win the European Champions' League, the ultimate club trophy in world football. But despite throwing hundreds of millions at the task, football is an open competition, unlike Russian elections. He can't simply command a win.

Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003. He has hired and fired 8 managers in that time. Not even Dan Snyder or George Steinbrenner can match that record.

The latest firing was inevitable. Villas-Boas was only 33, and he lost the respect of his dressing room, filled with some of the sport's most expensive players (not the best players, just the most expensive).

Abramovich had to make the move if only to keep up the hope that Chelsea will finish in the top four of the English Premier League and so qualify for the Champions' League. As of now they are in fifth place and don't look like a team capable of climbing up a notch before the end of the season.

As with Putin, Abramovich is not a particularly loved figure, except by close fans of Chelsea. The salaries he throws around have completely upended the cost of football in England. Most of the top clubs are massively in debt thanks to tyring to keep up with the inflated salary scale created by the billionaire's spending. London-rival Arsenal, are the exception, they operate in the black, but the team has a hard time holding on to its best players and while usually in the top three or four they never win the whole shebang any more.

The Russian pair know each other. This article in the London Standard a few years ago quotes Christopher Hutchins, biographer of the Chelsea owner, "Abramovich and Putin are incredibly close. Even though there's only a 10-year age gap between them, Putin regards Roman as something of a favorite son, and when Abramovich comes into the room Putin's face lights up … He sees Abramovich as something of an ambassador for Russia …"

Abramovich has denied Hutchins' claim, stating his relationship with Putin is precisely what you would expect of a prominent businessman and the head of his country's government. Still, the contrasting fortunes of the two men yesterday offer an opportunity to be reminded again of the fundamental differences between Russian culture and Western culture – and how success in one culture is no guarantee of success in the other.

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