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May 23, 2012

Harris lauds Roman reign at Chelsea

Chelsea legend Ron 'Chopper' Harris believes Roman Abramovich "only has the good of the club at heart" and says he has experienced first hand how the Russian owner "respects the traditions" of the Blues.

Abramovich's reign has coincided with the most successful period in Chelsea's history, with three league titles and four FA Cups won since he took control of the club in 2003.

The crowning glory of the billionaire's ownership came last Saturday as Didier Drogba's spot-kick handed the Blues a maiden Champions League triumph.

Abramovich has had plenty of critics during his spell at Stamford Bridge, though, with many unhappy about the way the club have been able to buy success and the regularity at which managers have been sacked.

However, Harris - who spent nearly two decades at Chelsea as a player and is the club's all-time leading appearance maker - insists negative press surrounding the owner is unjust and urged supporters to trust his motives having been welcomed back to Stamford Bridge himself following the Russian's takeover eight years ago.

"Roman Abramovich respects the traditions of the club and has welcomed me back when I was barred by [former chairman] Ken Bates," Harris says in The Roman Conquest, a book set to be released in June that focuses on Chelsea's road to Champions League glory. "He changed things and has brought back some of the older players.

"No matter how long I had spent at Chelsea, how many games I played for them or whatever honours I helped bring, the club named a stand after Nigel Spackman, who had been there about 18 months and was a Liverpool supporter! Yet, Peter Bonetti and myself had been there for more than 20 years each.

"Since Roman Abramovich arrived we now have lounges named after myself, Roy Bentley and Bobby Tambling, the people who spent their lives with Chelsea. I can only speak about Roman Abramovich the way I find him. People have their views but they don't know him.

"When he took over from Ken Bates, Roman Abramovich wanted to see me. We sat together for an hour and half, he talked to me using a translator, but his English wasn't that bad even then. We talked about Chelsea and he asked me what I thought should be done, and I willingly gave him my views when he asked about the playing squad, the number of players a club should have, all the sorts of things a new owner was eager to know about.

"Every time he sees me he comes over to say 'hello' and speaks to me, and the club have enjoyed its most successful period in its history under this owner, who has been a very, very successful person in his own business life. For me he only has the good of the club at heart."

One of Abramovich's major aims in recent years has been to look into relocating Chelsea to a bigger stadium, a plan that has faced stiff opposition from fans in the Chelsea Pitch Owners group, which owns the rights to the ground at present. But Harris feels the Blues owner is simply looking to improve the club.

"When he wants to move to an all-seater stadium it is to make the club bigger and better, not to charge more, in fact he has reduced prices for families and he would do the same in a bigger stadium," Harris said.

"Chelsea needs a bigger stadium to compete with the biggest clubs and to take it to the level of continually competing for the Champions League and the Premier League. Of course you don't want tradition to go out of the window, but equally the club needs to progress, so I am in favour of a bigger ground.

"He has done so much that the fans have become spoilt since he has been running the club, so much so that there would have been terrible disappointment in finishing sixth and missing out on the Champions League, a competition they have become so used to playing in over the years."

Get The Roman Conquest by Harry Harris direct from Empire Publications for just £7 (UK) £9 (overseas) Free Postage.

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