As the Blues search for a reputable manager to replace ‘nearly man’ Avram Grant becomes mired in farce and subterfuge I’m left wondering exactly whom at Chelsea Football Club owner Mr Abramovich should hold accountable for this shabby state of affairs which has left many supporters feeling deeply frustrated and alienated?Himself? Don’t be ridiculous. Autocratic plutocrats are never wrong, just poorly advised. Ask old Captain Birdseye Bates. Chelsea’s former owner, a man no stranger to controversial opinion, has recently broken his silence on the topic of Chelsea’s quest to find a man who can deliver the Holy Grail that is the Champions League Roman Abramovich covets above all else.
In 1983, Ken Bates saved Chelsea from the poorhouse … and 21 years later he almost took our beloved football club there again before Roman Abramovich stepped in with his millions to save the Blues from penury. During his despotic regime Mr Bates voraciously worked his way through a raft of managers as he impatiently strived to establish Chelsea in the top tier of English football, and it would appear that with slightly loftier ambitions Mr Abramovich is likely to follow suit.
What sets Bates and Abramovich apart is their knowledge of football. Mr Bates had plenty of detractors amongst the Clubs support, but few would argue with his visionary appointment of Glenn Hoddle as manager back in 1993. Hoddle was the catalyst that sparked a dramatic upturn in Chelsea’s fortunes, bringing with him as he did a continental approach to coaching and playing the game to say nothing of luring Ruud Gullit to Stamford Bridge. Glenn Hoddle left Chelsea in May 1996 to take up the England managers post, but his well documented legacy lives on to this very day.
There is a very positive argument which suggests that without Hoddle there would have been no logical progression through to the trophy-laden Mourinho years, but that discussion is for a different day. This debate is not about the merits and demerits of Ken Bates. What Bates very succinctly highlighted in his trademark brusque manner was what many of us now suspect to be true. Why in God’s name would any sensible rational manager want to become Chelsea’s next manager?
Since Avram Grant’s dismissal, the Blues have been linked with a variety of coaches. Luiz Felipe Scolari, Frank Rijkaard, Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti, Luciano Spalletti, Guus Hiddink, Mark Hughes, Marcello Lippi, Didier Deschamps, Jurgen Klinsmann … and so far no one has been appointed.
Chelsea frustratingly missed out on Hughes, who joined Manchester City. Another of Hoddle’s clever signings, Chelsea old boy Hughes would have been welcomed with adoring open arms by the Stamford Bridge massive. A bright young manager, with a bright future, and a Chelsea supporter to boot … it could have been scripted in the stars … but it wasn’t to be.
Ancelotti, who seemingly used his discussions with Chelsea to leverage a better deal for himself at AC Milan, Spalletti, Hiddink and Klinsmann have all ruled themselves out. Lippi and Deschamps aren’t heavyweight contenders, which leaves us with Scolari, Rikjaard and Mancini. Of these Scolari, the non English-speaking Portugal national-team coach, would be the choice of many, including Chelsea’s Portuguese playing contingent, but he has stressed that he will not even consider a new role until after Euro 2008. Meanwhile, the Stamford Bridge future of several key Blues players, Frank Lampard among them, remains undecided.
‘You don’t know what you’re doing’, was a jibe directed at Avram Grant on more than one occasion by a smattering of those who congregate in the Mathew Harding Stand. Perhaps the chant was misdirected, after-all Mr Grant did not appoint himself to the position of manager.
‘The basic problem with Chelsea is that they have an owner who doesn’t know anything about football,’ opined Bates. ‘And he, in turn, surrounds himself with lackeys who know precious little themselves. What do people like Bruce Buck, Peter Kenyon and Eugene Tenenbaum really know about the game? And that is what makes the job impossible. After the way Chelsea have treated their last three managers, why should anyone want the job?’
For once I have to agree with Ken Bates. Furthermore, the point he makes about the cabal of advisors which Mr Abramovich surrounds himself with whom Bates refers to as ‘lackeys’ is a valid one and as far as I am concerned the arch ‘lackey’ is Chelsea’s chief executive, Peter Kenyon, a man who in any other walk of corporate life would have been fired for gross incompetence whilst he was still working through his probationary period.
The bizarre sight of Peter Kenyon alacritously leading the dejected, beaten Chelsea players up the steps of the Luzhniki Stadium to be presented with their Champions League losers medals by Michel Platini, even accepting one himself from the UEFA president with an obsequious grin on his podgy face, has to rank as the most reprehensible event I have ever witnessed in my lifetime of watching the Blues.
From day one, I viewed the appointment of Peter Kenyon with the eyes of a cynic. Of course we all want the best for Chelsea Football Club, but did we really want a dyed-in-the-wool Manchester United fan, who joined the Blues for no other reason than to double his salary, influencing, or not as the case increasingly appears to be, the decision making process of Roman Abramovich.
Any benefit of doubt, that I was prepared to afford Kenyon evaporated in February 2004 shortly after he’d concluded his period of Old Trafford gardening leave and first started making his sycophantically toadying presence felt around Stamford Bridge.
Beginning with the open plot to relieve manager Claudio Ranieri of his duties whilst the Blues were still pursuing Champions League glory … does that sound familiar? … and progressing by sharing his plans for ‘global brand domination’, Kenyon soon made it clear that the humble match-attending fans, ‘customers’, as he prefers to call us, were no longer priority number one. The monetisation of all things Chelsea was underway, the sale shirts in Outer Mongolia taking precedence over crowd safety and ticketing, if we didn’t like it … too bad. That’s progress for you.
I recall standing shell-shocked behind Marco Ambrosio’s goal in Monte Carlo having just witnessed the Tinkerman spectacularly ruin Chelsea’s chances of defeating Monaco with a series of reckless substitutions. Who did the Chelsea fans vent their spleen on? Mr Ranieri? No, he was far too popular for that. It was Peter Kenyon. Fast-forward to the final day of that season. Chelsea had just beaten already relegated Leeds United and after a rousing chorus of ‘One Ranieri there’s only one Ranieri’, fans in the Matthew Harding lower tier began chanting, ‘Stand up, if you hate Kenyon! Stand up, if you hate Kenyon!’
Ranieri left, Mourinho arrived … but the Special One wasn’t the first choice. If Peter Kenyon had been more persuasive Chelsea would have had a certain bespectacled Swede sitting behind the manager’s desk wondering what to do with Romans millions. Whilst chief executive of Manchester United, Kenyon had spoken to the contracted Sven-Göran Eriksson about replacing Ferguson at Old Trafford and he eventually lined up England’s head coach at the time to replace Ranieri. Thankfully he failed in his endeavours and Jose Mourinho fell into Chelsea’s lap.
We were then treated to Kenyon’s illicit rendezvous with Ashley Cole then of ‘the’ Arsenal and of course his indiscreet meeting with Rio Ferdinard … and worse was to follow from the man who clearly loves the smell of his own farts. ‘What has made him a multi-billionaire? He surrounds himself with the very best people,’ said Kenyon, of Roman Abramovich, oblivious to the self-stroking praise that came with this observation. ‘He’s got a lot of good professionals around him and a very insightful overview of things. He can gauge the temperature and the sensitivities, and his distance allows him to make a very positive contribution.’
If we put aside playing matters for one minute and consider the financial side of Chelsea Football Club, you do not need any accountancy qualifications to realise that Mr Abramovich has surrounded himself by people who are burning through his vast cash reserves at an unprecedented and unparalleled rate. Peter Kenyon’s strategy when it comes to football finance has a Nick Leeson circa Barings Bank feel to it when you look at the hard facts, and no amount of positioning on his part can get away from the bottom line.
In 2007, Chelsea reduced full year record losses but only by a small amount. The club admitted that it faced a struggle to meet its goal of breaking even by 2009-10 despite revenues increasing by 25 per cent from £152.8m to £190.5m. A particular obstacle to achieving the break even target is the club’s wage bill which went up 16.7 per cent from £114m to £133m. Who determines player’s salaries? That’s right, Peter Kenyon … the skilled negotiator who still can’t get Frank Lampard to commit his future to the Club.
Even though Chelsea is now debt free, having paid back the last of its external bonds, it is still hemorrhaging large sums of money each year with 2007s pre-tax loss of £74.8m, only down 7 per cent from the previous year’s total of £80.2m. Net losses on transferring players fell from £85.4m in the previous 12 months to £11.7m in the year to 30 June 2007, though I suspect that this had more to do with the end of Roman’s love affair with Jose than anything else.
Kenyon’s recent rambling diatribes about Chelsea’s transfer policy mark him down as a man who has lost his way. ‘We’re bringing in a couple because I think our squad is too big at the moment, so we’ll be looking at the net spend,” he said a couple of days after he’d deservedly collected his Champions League losers medal. ‘But it’s quality we’re after, not quantity, and it’s a very thin market we’re operating in,’ he’d continued nebulously. ‘It’s fair to say they won’t be cheap. We’re looking at players who are star names or have the potential to be star names and that’s the key. When you look at what we’ve got, you can think about who to replace in what position, but are they better than what we’ve got? And even if he is, is he available and will he settle?’
The trouble is when he says ‘we’re’ … he’s talking about Roman and himself primarily. Remember Chelsea don’t have a manager at the moment. Peter Kenyon would have gone a long way to redeeming himself had he been able to persuade Mr Abramovich that Mark Hughes was the man to lead the Blues to the Promised Land. If we believe what we read, Hughes’ cause was being championed by Kenyon, but alas his lobbying came to nought.
Kenyon’s ineffectiveness when it comes to fulfilling what every sane person understands to be the role of chief executive can be summarised in two words, Avram Grant. In allowing Roman Abramovich to appoint his friend, the woefully under-qualified Grant, to the position of Director of Football let alone imagine for one minute he could fill Jose’s Armani overcoat, is all the proof that is required to endorse Ken Bates lucid observations. Peter Kenyon is nothing more than a lackey. Avram Grant is a nice guy who didn’t stand a chance. From the minute he put his head above the parapet last September right up to the second that John Terry slipped as he stepped up to take that penalty in Moscow eight months later.
‘The club is developing under Avram,’ Kenyon had said as recently as April in response to continued media criticism of the Israeli. ‘We are not doing badly on the pitch and aren’t going to jump to conclusions because of occasional losses. The manager has a long-term contract with the club and we hope he will see it through to the end. Grant took over in September and signed a four-year deal. There is no reason to talk about his possible departure.’
A month later, at the behest of Mr Abramovich, Kenyon sacked Grant.
In reality, Chelsea Football Club is developing under Roman Abramovich and no one else. What the future holds for the Blues is anyone’s guess. When Jose Mourinho wins the Champions League next season for Inter Milan, what will Roman do then? How much longer will it take for him to realise that he needs people around him who are genuinely able to advise him on how best to run a football club?
Will that day ever come or will Mr Abramovich simply throw all his expensive toys out of his expensive pram and sell up in a fit of pique? One thing’s for sure, if it comes to that, you can bet your bottom shilling that the supercilious Peter Kenyon will be on hand to ‘handle’ the sale personally and no doubt trouser a few more guineas for his already corpulent pension fund.
God help us all!
Up The Chels!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’, his new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ is out now. Copies are available to buy with a discount of 30% and free postage within the UK at http://www.overlandandsea.net/