WHEN Frank Lampard inked his three-year deal with Chelsea in July 2019, the presence of Marina Granovskaia alongside him at his unveiling was fitting.
After all, she has become the most powerful woman in football and the figure who Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich relies upon to get things done at the club.
Lampard met Abramovich on his yacht in St Tropez the month before his appointment – but it was Granovskaia who rubber-stamped a £5.5m-per-year deal for the Chelsea legend to compete his fairytale return to West London.
And it was Granovskaia who realised the importance of Lampard to the Chelsea fans, as well as his potential ability in management.
Over the years, she's been centre stage at every contract renewal or new signing unveiling. Her importance in the Blues hierarchy can never be underestimated.
It's with Roman's money where Granovskaia is trusted the most.
From Kevin De Bruyne to Mohamed Salah, the Chelsea owner rarely came off best when it came to selling his players, getting pitiful amounts for players that went on to become superstars.
That was until the Russian deputised to the woman who makes all the big decisions at the club, now.
Her sale of star-man Eden Hazard to Real Madrid was so incredible she was hailed by the Stamford Bridge faithful.
The LaLiga giants will end up paying £143million for the Belgium international who had just one year left on his Blues' deal.
On top of that, she received plenty of support for recouping a tidy £175m by shipping out a variety of flops from David Luiz to Alvaro Morata to Oscar.
Just like Abramovich, Marina Granovskaia opts for privacy over publicity.
Her only projection is through the heavily-restricted portal of the Chelsea club website.
But Granovskaia has been a key part of Abramovich’s real inner circle for the best part of two decades, through his entire Chelsea reign.
THE MOUSE WHO ROARED
Initially as an assistant at Sibneft, the oil conglomerate which helped turned Abramovich into an oligarch and one of the world’s wealthiest men.
Then, following the 2003 purchase of Chelsea, as the head of his London office, although initially unconnected to the club.
But over time, that changed.
The schoolgirl “grey mouse”, as described by a former teacher, has made herself one of the big beasts of the footballing jungle.
Granovskaia, now 47 and who has both Russian and Canadian nationality, might have come to London as a fixer for Abramovich, looking after the owner and his guests.
Her ability to network, though, was clear.
SHE WENT BACK FOR MOURINHO
Her opinion began to count, too.
Granovskaia might not have had a football background, but Abramovich trusted her to tell him the truth and backed her judgement.
So it was that Granovskaia persuaded Abramovich not to ditch Didier Drogba after he blew a gasket during the 2009 Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona, when many in the club felt they had to get rid of the Ivorian.
To go all-in to land Fernando Torres from Liverpool two years later, smashing the British record with a £50m fee.
And to leave the past in the past and rehire Jose Mourinho, six years after the relationship between the club hierarchy and the “Special One” had broken down.
CHELSEA DITCH 'SOFT TOUCH' TAG
By then, Granovskaia had been elevated to a place in the club’s elite, a member of both the Chelsea plc and football club boards, with special responsibility for transfers, contracts, loans and the academy.
That appointment brought a change in club strategy, a marked one from the early days of Abramovich’s reign when an asking price for a player seemed nothing more than a number, with Chelsea viewed by their rivals as something of an easy touch.
Instead, Granovskaia brought in the same financial approach that Abramovich would have demanded from his other businesses.
Soft touch no more. Instead, utterly determined to pay the right price, or simply walk away from the table.
Now, as far as Chelsea is concerned, with Abramovich an absentee landlord and even more so since the departure of sporting director Michael Emenalo in 2017, she is the power, and the glory.
SHE STILL SWEARS IN RUSSIAN
The woman who runs the club. The most powerful woman in world football.
And, considering her role and responsibilities, almost anonymous. A face, frequently in the background, not a voice. At least in public.
It is different behind the scenes, where it matters.
The foreign languages graduate from Moscow State University has become fluent in the lingo that counts in football – cash and cachet.
No key decisions take place at the club without her consent.
Yet very little is known about her.
Yes, she is fluent in English and other languages, although it is claimed that, if she loses her temper, she chooses to swear in her native tongue.
Apparently, too, her favourite restaurant is Knightsbridge eaterie Sumosan Twiga, the brand founded by former Benetton [later Renault F1] Formula One team principal Flavio Briatore.
Sumosan Twiga supply Chelsea’s VIP executive boxes with food and head chef Bubker Belhit described her as an “amazing person”, adding: “She’s on top of any small things to the biggest thing.”
Even so, Granovskaia prefers to stay in the background.
BUT SHE RARELY SPEAKS IN PRIVATE
In October 2018, when Chelsea launched their campaign against anti-Semitism at the Westminster apartment of then-Commons Speaker John Bercow, Granovskaia let Bruce Buck take the lead for the club and did not speak publicly.
Instead, she smiled and greeted the invited guests, but made nothing more than polite small-talk.
It is the way that Chelsea’s true elite have done business since 2003.
They only talk, seriously, to the people they want to talk to.
Granovskaia has shown that by adopting a hardline approach to negotiations.
And that goes for her employees, too.
CONTE MADE THE FALL-GUY
When Antonio Conte began to use his press conferences to publicly absolve himself of responsibility for the club’s decline in his second season, it was Granovskaia who made it clear to the Italian he would be the fall-guy.
Chelsea’s summer of equivocation over who would replace Conte was a rare occasion when it seemed Granovskaia was less than sure-footed.
But Maurizo Sarri knew he was being judged by her the moment he arrived at the Bridge.
And who would be his executioner if his head was required. Marina, now, is the one who wields the knife.
And in the end, she negotiated another excellent deal on Chelsea's behalf as Sarri joined Juventus.
Initially, Granovskaia wanted the Italian giants to pay around £5.3m for their manager's services.
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That then dropped to £4m, before finally all parties agreed on a deal somewhere lower than that.
Surely that saved Chelsea millions in compensation should they have sacked Sarri, a man who fans wanted out, in the close season? Miraculously, Granovskaia made money instead.
Abramovich might be the money behind the operation, but Granovskaia is certainly the business brains.
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