If you don’t know the name, it’s only because she doesn’t want you to. Marina Granovskaia is the ultra private director of Chelsea football club who, thanks to her notoriously sharp negotiation skills has been lauded as the “First Lady of Football”.
Despite having never done a public interview and tightly controlling which images are released of her, there’s little doubt as to the extent of her influence. Last year she was named Best Club Director in European Football and she is known for effectively running Chelsea for Abramovich over recent years. She has been in charge of player transfers and contracts since 2013, as well as securing a record-breaking £900 million Nike sponsorship deal. Granovskaia is undoubtedly an off-pitch powerhouse.
Chelsea fans then will be disappointed to hear this week’s announcement that Granovskaia is to step down from her role – taking with her an exit bonus reportedly worth £20 million. The decision comes as American businessman Todd Boehly completes his takeover from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
So how did Granovskaia become “the most powerful woman in football”?
Roman Abramovich’s righthand woman
Granovskaia and former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich have a long history. They first began working together in 1997 shortly after Granovskaia graduated from Moscow State University from her Foreign Languages degree with honours. She’s a native Russian speaker and fluent in English and several other European languages — but, it’s claimed that, if she loses her temper, she chooses to swear in her native tongue.
Granovskaia began first as Abramovich’s personal assistant at his oil company Sibneft followed by a brief stint at Millhouse, the oligarch’s asset management firm. By 2003 she was helping him run his London office as defacto chief of staff and offering PR advice. She was also given a luxury apartment within the Stamford Bridge complex
The First Lady of Football
It was in 2003 when Granovskaia first became involved with Chelsea. Over the next seven years, she increased her influence at Stamford Bridge as she began assisting with multi-million-pound transfers. Granovskaia’s negotiating powers were instantly felt as she led the renewal of contracts for key players such as John Terry.
Success followed like night follows day - two Premier League wins in Abramovich’s first three years and five Champions League semi-final appearances in his first six soon established the club on the world stage.
On top of all the trophies she helped to collect, Granovskaia was also integral in building relations with Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem, which acted as a breeding ground for much of Chelsea’s young talent. She also orchestrated the move to Chelsea’s new training ground at Cobham, which opened in 2007 and is one of the best in the country.
All that helped to cement her position at Stamford Bridge, and she received the official role of Abramovich’s representative in 2010. Within three years she was sworn onto the club’s board, and in 2017 she demonstrated her fierce negotiating power by tying Nike into a £60m-a-year (£900m in total) shirt sponsorship deal with Chelsea - which runs all the way until 2032.
"She is basically the power at Chelsea," a source told the Evening Standard. "Roman trusts her implicitly. She’s not interested in being a celebrity but there is no doubt who’s in charge and who calls the shots.”
Granovskaia has shown her mettle in orchestrating some of Chelsea’s biggest transfers of the last decade. Prising Fernando Torres from Liverpool’s clutches in 2011, even for £50m, was no mean feat, and neither was fighting off competition to sign Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa after he finished just a goal behind Lionel Messi in La Liga’s 2013/14 scoring charts.
When she was eventually appointed to the position of chief executive officer of the club in 2014, it made her the “most powerful woman in football,” according to the New York Times.
A life of luxury
Working for one of the world’s richest football clubs comes with its fair share of benefits. Firstly, there is her seven-figure salary reported to be between £1.5-2 million per year - not to mention the £20 million exit bonus. All-in-all, Granovskaia’s personal net worth is estimated to be a staggering $1.9 billion. But how does she spend it?
Well, her favourite restaurant is Knightsbridge eaterie Sumosan Twiga, the brand founded by former Benetton [later Renault F1] Formula One team principal Flavio Briatore.
As for any tidbits about her home, any children, or a partner? She remains elusive. And she, of course, shuns social media.
What does her exit mean for the future of Chelsea?
Granovskaia’s looming departure means the hunt is on for a new sporting director with Atletico Madrid’s Andrea Berta believed to be the frontrunner. Owner and newly appointed Chairman Boehly will act as interim sporting director.
It is not yet clear when Granovskaia will leave, but it is now expected to be before the end of the window meaning Boehly will also be tasked with negotiating this summer’s transfers – something he is already doing as he negotiates Romelu Lukaku’s loan return to Inter.
That responsibility will also be shared by manager Thomas Tuchel, who Boehly allegedly wants to give more power over recruitment.
There are also question marks over the future of Petr Cech, who has been acting as the club’s technical and performance advisor and consulting on transfers. He too may decide to leave Stamford Bridge following the change of ownership, though his ties to the previous regime and Roman Abramovich are less strong than Granovskaia.
As for Granovskaia’s next moves, some fans have joked her net worth is so big she could afford to buy Everton, which has reportedly been put up for sale by Farhad Moshiri.
While it’s unlikely she will, one thing’s for sure: she won’t be short of options.