Chelsea’s forward thinker
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Chelsea’s forward thinker

Danny Caro meets Adrian Jacob, the executive manager of London’s top women’s football team.

Adrian Jacob (left) at Wembley Stadium.
Adrian Jacob (left) at Wembley Stadium.

When Adrian Jacob first walked into Chelsea Football Club eight years ago, he didn’t know what was about to hit him. 

For much of his life, Jacob, 43, has been immersed in finance. Having moved from Manchester to London 21 years ago, he admits he has “never really left the financial world”. But, shrewdly, he found a way to marry two of his biggest passions. 

It was a chance meeting with a female client that introduced him to Chelsea FC Women.

“I worked in foreign exchange and built up the company,” said Jacob, who sold Currency UK five months ago, while retaining an interest. 

Unbeknown to him at the time, Emma Hayes was manager of Chelsea Women. She chased Jacob to sponsor some of her players, but he declined, insisting he was “only interested in assisting” Hayes. Things progressed at speed after he indicated he was “really struck by what the club were doing”. 

Chelsea Women coach Emma Hayes (left) poses for a photo with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo credit: Shahar Azran/Chelsea Football Club/PA Wire.)

Hayes invited Jacob as a guest at the women’s Champions League final at Stamford Bridge between Lyon and Wolfsburg in 2013, and he described the occasion as a “real eye-opener”. Initially, his involvement at Chelsea began in a part-time capacity, and he was advised his role would be limited to “only four FA meetings a year”. But he became so immersed in the club’s culture and has played a major part in moving the team forward. 

A Manchester United supporter from childhood, Jacob assumed the role of executive manager, and said: “I’m very hands-on and do things very differently to the previous regime. When I joined, there were only two full-time employees, both working 90-hour weeks. Chelsea Women had around 80 players on its books, all part-time with other jobs. The team used to play at Staines FC in front of 100 people and a dog. It has grown incredibly.”

Two years later, Chelsea FC Women won the Super League for the first time and the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley Stadium. The silverware has continued to flow on the domestic front, although the Champions League has eluded them so far.

Chelsea FC Women coached children on a tour of Israel prior to the 2019 season

Jacob, who lives in Bushey with his wife and two daughters, who are in primary Jewish education, has played no small part in the success story on and off the pitch. He said: “I know I’m very lucky to be where I am, but we’ve worked incredibly hard to grow it.

“I arrived as a buffer between the women’s team and the club, but have tried to help it grow, so Emma and the team can concentrate on the football. I get involved in different aspects, from marketing, budgets, legals, recruitment, dealing with agents, transfers and strategies. A lot of it is about being there when Emma needs [help]. A problem-solving job, if you like.”

Adrian Jacob

Asked what makes the working relationship a success, he pauses before breaking into laughter and says: “Emma’s an absolute whirlwind and an amazing strategist who never leaves anything to chance. My job is to facilitate everything she wants to do to allow the players to perform to the best of their abilities and ensure everyone is happy.” 

Having studied at Manchester Grammar School, Jacob obtained a degree in French and Russian at Leeds University. He says his languages have helped him with the cosmopolitan team featuring 11 nationalities.

Now, when the women’s team needs something, Jacob deals with Roman Abramovich’s intermediaries, including chairman Bruce Buck, CEO Guy Laurence and director Marina Granovskaia. And, although he has yet to use his Russian, he has nothing but admiration and praise for the efforts of the owner. 

“Mr Abramovich has a good team around him,” says Jacob. “They give us everything we want, within reason. Our budget has grown incrementally as investors don’t see us as being a cheaper way of being involved in the product.” 

This view was supported by Sky Sports securing rights to show the Super League for the next three years in a deal believed to be worth £8million a season, an agreement Hayes described as a “watershed moment” for women’s football. 

Jacob said: “The women’s game is now in a very different place from where it was eight years ago. Everything changed with the introduction of the Super League and the progress of Manchester City women. Chelsea have grown with the buy-in from all our rivals. We’ve steered it from the top. Chelsea are very good at doing what we do, but not boasting about it.”

Photo of Chelsea Women players posing for a photo with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo credit: Shahar Azran/Chelsea Football Club/PA Wire.

Jacob maintains there is a healthy rivalry between the top teams in the women’s game, but it is far from the cut-throat atmosphere of the Premier League. “It’s not just been about Chelsea,” said Jacob. “It’s also about helping to develop the women’s game. Manchester City have been an amazing ally. They are very much aligned as to where women’s football needs to go and wants to be, to put certain things in place and how best to go about it.”

He says: “We’re doing as much as we can and hope that others will follow. We’re hoping it inspires a new generation and can get young girls thinking ‘I can do this for a living’.”

A recent 2-0 win over Aston Villa helped Chelsea regain top spot in the Super League. But Jacob believes they are also leading the way in an important area off the pitch. 

Having played for South Manchester Sports Club in his youth, Jacob maintains close ties with his community and the grassroots game. He went on to speak of his pride at the work Chelsea are doing in the bid to eradicate racism and antisemitism from football.

Chelsea’s women’s team got involved in the campaigns to remember the Holocaust, including England’s national goalkeeper Carly Telford, midfielder and fellow England national Drew Spence, defender Magdalena Eriksson, Welsh captain Sophie Ingle and Swedish goalie Hedvig Lindahl. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“Over the years, Chelsea never had the best reputation, but today they are saying ‘this is what can be done’. Mr Abramovich doesn’t seek publicity. But for him, it’s about a community and using the club as a vehicle to spread the message, which has come from the top that antisemitism is unacceptable. Everyone at the club has bought into the project.” 

Jacob recalled the time when Chelsea “opened the doors to all employees” to go on the March of the Living walk in Poland. “It was incredible to see Holocaust survivors talk to members of the Chelsea Women’s team, people who may have glossed over it in history lessons at school,” he says. “The experience opened people’s eyes.”

 

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