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Sep 16, 2009

Kenyon leaves a mixed legacy

The whispers and rumours surrounding Peter Kenyon's bombshell of a departure from Chelsea have begun in earnest but, as with every key decision taken by the silent Roman Abramovich, the real reasons behind Wednesday's news are likely to remain out of the public domain, officially at least.

Was Kenyon the victim of a behind-closed doors power struggle with Frank Arnesen? Is he being lined up for a role at Manchester City? Did the Gael Kakuta saga spell the end of his grip on the Stamford Bridge piggy bank?

Concerns over Chelsea's recruitment policy have been paramount following the Kakuta case and the timing is interesting, but surely their aggregation of young players, and the methods by which that is achieved, falls under the remit of Frank Arnesen, not Kenyon. Indeed, the influence of the Dane has been mooted as a potential factor in Kenyon's departure.

Despite failing to bring through a notable addition to the Chelsea first team, Arnesen was promoted to the role of sporting director in July and his reported encroachment into first team affairs was also believed to be a factor in Jose Mourinho's exit. Perhaps the signs were there for Kenyon over the summer.

But as he prepares to clear his desk at the end of October and walk out of Stamford Bridge, with a mysterious role as a 'non-executive director' awaiting him, what do we make of Kenyon's reign of five-and-a-half years?

From day one, it was a controversial story. The nature of Kenyon's recruitment from Manchester United in September 2003 was bitter indeed. Departing Old Trafford after six years, with intimate knowledge of the club's financial strategies and Sir Alex Ferguson's transfer plans, he was placed on lengthy gardening leave in order to mitigate the fall-out from United's perspective.

But Kenyon did not take long to rile his former employers. Having grown United as a global brand and overseen some huge transfers, most notably Rio Ferdinand's move from Leeds United, Kenyon was given the same brief by Roman Abramovich as he sought to undercut the dominance enjoyed by Ferguson's club.

In March 2004, Kenyon brokered the deal that saw Arjen Robben move from PSV Eindhoven to Stamford Bridge, beating United to his signature despite Ferguson's substantial courtship of the player, to the degree that the Dutchman was given a tour of Old Trafford.

Another player firmly on Ferguson's radar was Michael Essien and the Ghanaian midfielder even spent a week on trial with United in 2000. The 17-year-old could not earn a work permit though and five years later it was Kenyon, rather than Ferguson, who brought the midfielder to England for a fee of £24.4 million.

Early strategic purchases were married with his success in luring Jose Mourinho to the club. While the way Kenyon and Abramovich disposed of Claudio Ranieri was ruthless at best, there was no disguising the rampant success that Mourinho brought to Stamford Bridge, winning back-to-back league titles and numerous cups.

It seemed as though Chelsea were well on their way to enjoying the kind of world domination that the club's hierarchy desired although, like many brash young upstarts, they were starting to unsettle those they were elbowing aside.

David Dein had already betrayed the growing fear amongst Premier League rivals when stating, in 2003, that "Abramovich has parked his tanks on our lawn and is firing £50 notes at us". Indeed it was Dein's Arsenal that were the victims of the most high-profile example of Chelsea flexing their new-found muscle.

Having already been pictured welcoming Sven Goran Eriksson to his home - an inflammatory act given that the Swede was managing the English national side at the time - Kenyon was again present when a clandestine meeting occurred with Ashley Cole at a top London hotel in January 2005. Arsenal were infuriated and demanded action. Cole and Mourinho were both fined while Chelsea were ordered to pay £300,000 and were handed a suspended three-point deduction.

A coincidental meeting with Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand in a West London restaurant soon afterwards did not help matters, or help Sir Alex Ferguson's mood.

To many, the tawdry Cole affair was symptomatic of a growing arrogance at the club - a perception only underlined by Kenyon's famous assertion in the summer of 2005 that "the winner of the title will come from a small bunch of one". The fact he was proved correct did not dampen accusations of a superiority complex.

So while their global popularity grew, helped by Kenyon's determination to exploit the Asian and American markets, Chelsea's reservoir of goodwill in England was running dry. Rich, bullish and determined to prove that financial resources could trump history and tradition, the club were winning few friends.

But while times were good, global markets were expanding and Mourinho was collecting silverware on the pitch, Chelsea could afford to adopt such an attitude. Although things began to change when Mourinho lost his battle of wills with Abramovich, despite Kenyon's best efforts to keep the pair together.

Charged with finding a long-term successor, Kenyon had to put on the bravest of faces when announcing to the international media that a man named Avram Grant had been plucked from obscurity to take charge of the side in September 2007. The Israeli, installed by Abramovich, lasted until the end of the season and saw the demanded Champions League title slip agonisingly from his grasp.

Prevailing wisdom states that Luiz Felipe Scolari was Kenyon's choice in the summer of 2008, while Abramovich wanted Carlo Ancelotti. If true, the Brazilian's subsequent failure did not reflect at all well on the chief executive and the fact that he was on holiday when the decision was taken to sack Scolari is enlightening. This summer Abramovich got his man, with Ancelotti arriving from Milan, but Kenyon will not be around to witness firsthand the dynasty that the Italian attempts to found in West London.

Kenyon's own legacy is far from certain. Although he never achieved his much-stated aim of breaking even with the club's finances, it cannot be denied that, under the chief executive, Chelsea became a far more established force in European football and a far more prominent club on a global scale. The exploitation of pre-season tours to Asia and America helped establish that most irksome of terms from a football fan's perspective - a brand loyalty.

The growing trend of describing supporters as 'consumers' and clubs as 'brands' can hardly be laid solely at Chelsea's feet. But the phenomenon received perhaps its clearest public expression when none other than Kenyon (to widespread public bemusement and ridicule), led the team up to collect a loser's medal at the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow. United, in contrast, chose a dignified Sir Bobby Charlton, 50 years on from the Munich disaster.

That, perhaps, is the image that will last from Kenyon's reign. A prominent, successful, and respected figure in the halls of power at Stamford Bridge, but one that was an unwitting symbol and key architect of the club's poor public image in the wider football community.

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