The apparent vanishing act of Marina Granovskaia brings to mind a story which sums up the anonymity in which this ‘First Lady of Football’ liked to work while governing Chelsea.
In February of this year, Thomas Tuchel took his squad and staff to Italian restaurant Grappelli, a five-minute drive from the training ground in Cobham, Surrey. It was to thank them for their efforts ahead of the Carabao Cup final later that month and Granovskaia was invited.
Magician David Redfearn was hired as entertainment for the Wednesday evening get-together. He posed for a picture with Tuchel and Granovskaia, who were sat next to each other, and posted it to his social media channels.
‘First Lady of Football’ Marina Granovskaia is poised leave her role as director at Chelsea
Look for them now, however, and they don’t exist. Why they were deleted, we cannot say for sure, though it is indicative of the image that Granovskaia created for herself – one that said she operates only in the shadows.
True to that reputation, the woman who was neither seen nor heard while commanding one of the world’s most successful clubs is now seemingly disappearing. As a director since 2013, Granovskaia is set to leave Chelsea having never conducted 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 47-year-old Russian-Canadian’s one and only portal for publicity and the picture gallery says it all. She was sat next to Maurizio Sarri at 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 when he signed his deals
She sat with Maurizio Sarri (left) at his appointment in 2018 and Frank Lampard (right) in 2019
She posed with the players who signed contracts with the club. Like Romelu Lukaku on his return to Chelsea for £97.5million. Like Mason Mount, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Reece James, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante and countless others whose transactions she oversaw. Her duties didn’t stop with the men’s team either, as she could be seen holding the Chelsea shirt alongside Sam Kerr at her signing in 2019.
As a trusted ally of Roman Abramovich’s – a long-time senior advisor and his eyes and ears on the ground – the Russian owner appreciated her relative anonymity and trusted her decision-making. Granovskaia, a Moscow State University graduate, had no background in football but rose to become the English game’s leading lady.
Some business was good, like the £89m rising to £146m she negotiated for Eden Hazard when he moved to Real Madrid, despite having only a year left on his contract with Chelsea. Some wasn’t so good, like that costly re-signing of Lukaku, who is now on the verge of returning to Inter Milan on loan.
The 47-year-old had been a trusted ally of former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich
She was seen with the players who signed contracts with the club like Romelu Lukaku (left)
She could be seen holding the Chelsea shirt alongside Sam Kerr (left) at her signing in 2019
Yet the loss of Granovskaia would be felt by Chelsea after spending so long under her governance.
This is an official who only last year was named Best Club Director in European Football at an awards evening in Italy as supporters bragged about her being their ‘Queen’. They felt safe with her, considering this was someone who could bring in a record £60m for a player like Oscar when the Chinese Super League was booming.
The timing of the news of her departure, in the midst of a transfer window, isn’t convenient. But it could represent a clean break for a club now operating under new ownership, and as respected as she is, Granovskaia’s well-known connection to Abramovich was always going to be a complicated and uncomfortable link for Chelsea if she was to stay.
Her exit presents a clean break for a club now under new ownership (pictured Todd Boehly)
Granovskaia sanctioned the 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 on the Chelsea director. They didn’t want to annoy the powerful woman who values her privacy and would only speak anonymously, praising her direct style in contract discussions.
They admired her candour 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 an offer of £10m came in, Cech would be granted his move. Despite it being a direct rival who met that valuation, she still sanctioned the sale, whereas others might have moved the goalposts late on.
Granovskaia spent so much of her time at Chelsea in the shadows where she liked it. Her silence only added to the idea of her being a hardline negotiator working behind the scenes to better the club.
Chelsea now seem set for a new direction – one in which they’ll be navigating those murky waters of contract negotiations without their shark.