It was the dream that became a desire, the desire that became an obsession, and it's now the obsession that is ruining Roman Abramovich's life.
Chelsea saw yet another Champions League campaign go up in smoke on Tuesday, snuffed out by a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in the quarterfinal second leg, leaving the club with nothing to show for another season and the extraordinary financial investment of its owner.
The harder Abramovich tries to win this competition, the more it eludes him. He has placed it above all else on his list of priorities, made no secret that it is the only thing that can make him feel that the hundreds of millions of pounds he has pumped into Chelsea have been worthwhile.
Three years ago it was a treacherous piece of Moscow turf and a John Terry slip that denied him. This time it was a better team – a Manchester United unit that has learned to live with its limitations and operate as one – that engineered his downfall.
Abramovich has lavished the cash with specific intent. Fernando Torres was bought for $79.5 million not just because he was considered one of the world's best strikers, but also because he was still eligible to play in the latter rounds of this competition, this season.
Countless signings have been made because of the player's suitability to or experience in European competition. The message from the top has been clear: The English Premier League crown is nice, but the Champions League is the main target. So far all efforts have not been enough.
Or perhaps it has been too much. Abramovich is a man of unspeakable wealth, the kind that means he can literally buy whatever he likes. Cars, yachts, mansions, a soccer club, a superstar squad, three EPL titles. But not the Champions League.
His fixation with this competition may be having a reverse effect. Frank Lampard spoke midweek about how the Chelsea players feel they "owe" Abramovich the trophy – hardly an ideal mindset heading into such a crucial game.
It also has become ammunition for opponents – with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson highlighting Abramovich's "obsession" this week as a means of cranking up the pressure ahead of a tense night at Old Trafford.
Maybe it made a difference. Maybe that bit of tension over two legs hamstrung Chelsea enough to deny them. Or maybe United was just better.
Certainly the Red Devils had more confidence, a spirit that has been built steadily over the course of a season when they have, save for a few blips, remained resolute if unspectacular.
Javier Hernandez's goal just before halftime effectively sealed the tie, and even when Blues' Didier Drogba narrowed the overall advantage to one in the second half, Park Ji-Sung responded within a minute for United to extend the gap once more.
Drogba was strong and impressive after coming on for Torres at the half, and, in all reality, should probably have been in the starting lineup. But there are always political factors at work at Chelsea, and head coach Carlo Ancelotti would have found it hard to make an argument for dropping Torres given his enormous price tag.
While Chelsea licks its wounds, United marches on. Every step Ferguson's team takes makes the possibility of the EPL, FA Cup and Champions League treble all the more likely. All that, even after selling their best player Cristiano Ronaldo two seasons ago and operating on a recent policy of comparative frugality.
Meanwhile, Chelsea continues to throw cash at Abramovich's dream, one that is still no closer to being realized.
- Roman Abramovich
- Manchester United
- Fernando Torres