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On the road with... Chelsea: Back where it all started, but still no sign of Roman

By Matt Barlow in Zilina

Last updated at 12:05 PM on 15th September 2010

A few things have changed since the last trip to the foothills of the Tatras to see Chelsea's superstars against little Zilina.

For starters, the tidy little Pod Dubnom stadium has had a face-lift and a club official pointed a few things out, with a strange mixture of pride and embarrassment as Carlo Ancelotti worked his players on the pitch in training.

'Not as big as your stadiums in London,' he accepted.

Back to square one: Chelsea train in Zilina ahead of Wednesday's match

True, but, at a glance, Zilina's facilities seemed better than those at White Hart Lane. More elbow room in the press box for starters, the view is much better and the wifi works. And it's only marginally more difficult to get to from south west London than the home of Spurs.

They've built a new hotel, no more than 50 yards from the stadium, where the Chelsea team are staying. Ancelotti's players could wander down a freshly-surfaced road to the ground. It will feel like Chelsea Village. (It won't).

The main men: Roman Abramovich with his Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti

A cluster of fans were waiting outside the doors for the team to return from their training session, hunting autographs. Nearby is a souvenir shop selling David Beckham dolls among other things and these days the Euro is the unit of currency in Slovakia.

This time, there is no air of paranoia about the whereabouts of Roman Abramovich. In 2003, when he had just taken over the club and was splurging millions on new players, there was enormous attention on his first game, the Champions League qualifier in Zilina.

Twitchy reporters had an eye on the skies for helicopters but he turned out to be on the other side of the planet, moored off the coast of Alaska on one of his super-yachts.

The takeover proved to be a pivotal moment, not just for Chelsea, but for English football, altering the landscape by triggering an influx of wealthy foreign owners, hiking wages and transfer fees to new levels, testing the nerve of those determined to keep pace.

The Russian billionaire didn't make it to Slovakia but turned up at Anfield a few days later for his first game, looking all smart in his tie and witnessed a 2-1 win with goals from Juan Sebastian Veron and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

In seven years, Abramovich has barely uttered a word in public, so these days there tends to be less media clamour about his attendance, except when the rumours start that he's about to sack the manager or quit the club, of course. Last night, his spokesman wasn't sure of his whereabouts.

It was also a big year for Zilina in 2003, with their own sugar daddy, paper tycoon Jozef Antosik taking over the club and bankrolling unprecedented success.

They have won the Slovakian title five times in the last nine years but this European campaign is the pinnacle, beating Birkirkara of Malta (despite losing the first leg), Litex Lovech of Bulgaria and Czech rivals Sparta Prague to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League for the first time.

Raring to go: John Terry (right) and Nicolas Anelka are out trough their paces

It sparked a bit of a row, with the club increasing ticket prices to as much as 600 euros. After criticism, the prices were reduced and those who had already bought tickets were given a scarf and a ticket for last weekend's game at home to Tatran Presov. Some disgruntled fans staged a walk-out protest during the game.

And, at the end of it all, the stadium (less than 11,000 for the Champions League due to certain UEFA restrictions) is sold out. Seven years ago, only 6,160 could squeeze in the ground to see Chelsea.

Progress, of sorts, for all

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1312240/On-road--Chelsea-Zilina--Still-sign-Roman-Abramovich.html#ixzz0zcV7Rqrk

Interesting article, sorry that I found it a bit late.

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