Marina Granovskaia: Chelsea set for new direction amid ‘First Lady of Football’s’ exit
Marina Granovskaia’s apparent vanishing act conjures up a story that sums up the anonymity in which this ‘First Lady of Football’ enjoyed working when he ran Chelsea.
In February of this year, Thomas Tuchel took his squad and staff to Grappelli Italian restaurant, a five-minute drive from the training ground in Cobham, Surrey. It was to thank them for their efforts leading up to the Carabao Cup final later that month and Granovskaia was invited.
Magician David Redfearn was hired to provide entertainment for the Wednesday night drinks. He posed for a photo with Tuchel and Granovskaia, sitting side by side, and posted it on his social media channels.
‘First Lady of Football’ Marina Granovskaia is about to leave her role as Chelsea director
Now look for them though, and they don’t exist. Why they were removed we cannot say for sure, although it is indicative of the image Granovskaia created for herself – an image that said she only operates in the shadows.
True to that reputation, the woman who was not seen or heard from when she ran one of the world’s most successful clubs seems to be disappearing. As director since 2013, Granovskaia will leave Chelsea without even having done a single interview with a newspaper and without relying on a relationship with reporters who regularly cover her club.
Instead, she lived and died by her decisions, using the club’s website to showcase her work. That was the only portal for publicity from the 47-year-old Russian-Canadian and the photo gallery says it all. She sat next to Maurizio Sarri on his appointment in 2018. Next to Frank Lampard in 2019. Next to Tuchel in early 2021, and again five months later when he agreed an extension after winning the Champions League.
The Russian-Canadian posed next to manager Thomas Tuchel as he signed his deals
She sat with Maurizio Sarri (left) on his appointment in 2018 and Frank Lampard (right) in 2019
She posed with the players who signed contracts with the club. Such as Romelu Lukaku on his return to Chelsea for £97.5 million. Such as Mason Mount, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Reece James, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante and countless others whose trades she oversaw. Her duties didn’t stop with the men’s team either, as she was seen wearing the Chelsea shirt alongside Sam Kerr at her signing in 2019.
A trusted ally of Roman Abramovich — a long-time senior advisor and his eyes and ears on the ground — the Russian owner valued her relative anonymity and trusted her decision-making. A graduate of Moscow State University, Granovskaia had no background in football but grew up to be the leading lady of the English game.
Some things were good, such as the £89million that rose to £146million she negotiated for Eden Hazard when he moved to Real Madrid, despite only having a year left on his Chelsea contract. Some were not so good, such as that costly re-enlistment of Lukaku, who is now about to return to Inter Milan on loan.
The 47-year-old was a trusted ally of former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich
She was seen with the players signing contracts with the club such as Romelu Lukaku (left)
She was seen wearing the Chelsea shirt alongside Sam Kerr (left) at her signing in 2019
Still, the loss of Granovskaia would be felt by Chelsea after being under her administration for so long.
This is an official who was just named best club director in European football at an awards ceremony in Italy last year, as supporters bragged of her being their ‘queen’. They felt safe with her as this was someone who could rake in a record £60million for a player like Oscar when the Chinese Super League boomed.
The timing of the news of her departure, in the middle of a transfer window, is not convenient. But it could be a clear breakthrough for a club now operating under new ownership, and as respected as she is, Granovskaia’s well-known connection to Abramovich would always be a complicated and inconvenient link for Chelsea if she were to stay.
Her departure is a clear breakthrough for a club that is now under new ownership (photo Todd Boehly)
Granovskaia endorsed sale of Petr Cech (right) to direct rivals Arsenal in 2015
In the past, agents have been reluctant to talk about Granovskaia when asked to contribute to profiles about the Chelsea director. They didn’t want to bother the powerful woman who values her privacy and only speak anonymously and praise her direct style in contract negotiations.
They admired her candor and felt she was a woman of her word. Like how Petr Cech was allowed to leave Chelsea for Arsenal in 2015. It was agreed that if a £10m bid came in, Cech would get his switch. Despite being a direct rival that lived up to that rating, she still approved the sale, while others may have moved the goalposts later.
Granovskaia spent so much of her time at Chelsea in the shade where she liked it. Her silence only reinforced the idea that she was a tough negotiator working behind the scenes to make the club better.
Chelsea now appears to be heading in a new direction – one in which they will navigate those murky waters of contract negotiations without their shark.