In the age of the super-club, the Champions League will arrive in rare new territory on Wednesday when Chelsea land in southern Russia.
Their opponents are FC Krasnodar, upstarts by anyone’s measure, but this is a club with a uniquely compelling twist.
The province of Krasnodar Krai was frontier country in the days of the Russian Empire. These days, Krasnodar is a calmer place to be.
Or at least, it will be until Chelsea touch down.
The game, the club’s first ever home Champions League group-stage match, is a sellout – within the Covid-19 restrictions allowed by the Russian authorities. A phenomenal amount of effort, and no little heart, has gone into turning the young club, only founded in 2008, into an outfit ready to compete at this level.
Behind it all is the controlling hand of a singular maverick. Sergey Galitsky, founder of the supermarket chain Magnit, sits alone in the Russian billionaire community.
Whilst most of the country’s super-rich made their money buying up Russia’s natural resources at the fall of the USSR, Galitsky, 53, built his nationwide retail business the old fashioned way, with hard work, grit and innovation.
It’s a not-insignificant distinction in the eyes of a population that suffered hardship throughout the 1990s, while the oligarch class scooped up the country’s natural wealth. (BBC)